Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What is a 'booking fee' anyway?

Well - the Wilko Johnson farewell gigs have taken over the World! Ok so that's probably a bit of an overstatement, but the March 6th show at Koko in Camden sold out in no time as did an added date on the 10th and indeed the rest of the shows. It's sad in a way as obviously the increased interest is due to his illness, but also great to see such support for the man. That said there are quite a few tickets on eBay and less reputable agencies for vastly inflated prices which is a great shame - as usual the 'real' fans either miss the shows or are obliged to pay whatever price the ticket touts decide is 'reasonable'. Surely more can be done to stop this from happening - there are stories on Wilko's Facebook page about people able to buy as many as twenty tickets when the limit should theoretically have been eight. Very poor. I managed to get tickets for both of the London shows - I'm sure I'm not the only person who considered giving them a miss and remembering him as I do now, but in the end couldn't resist seeing him just a couple more times. In the meantime Wilko gave an excellent interview on BBC Radio 4 this week in which he demonstrates his fabled guitar technique, reminisces about his career and tells of how his cancer diagnosis made him feel 'vividly alive'. It's inspirational stuff, as you can hear here -  these are going be very emotional shows.

On a (much) lighter note the excellent Music Ruined My Life blog currently has last December's 12 Bar Club show from myself and T.V Smith (joined for a few numbers by Pascal Briggs) available to download - you can read my story of the evening here if you'd like to, and can download our hour-ish long set here. I must have a listen to it myself! Blogmeister Jeffen is promising 'more of this under-appreciated figure's accomplishments' very soon. Amazingly I think he means me! Oo-er!

Two very different gigs this weekend, during the course of which I played over 50 different songs. On Friday Big Al Reed and The Cardiac Arrests (I wonder if I'm the only band member who thinks that we could do with a better name? I must ask them next time!) visited The Swan in Iver. Al and myself generally attend the first-Sunday-of-the-month open mic night there (indeed we'll hopefully be there this coming Sunday) but this was the first gig for the band, and it generally went well especially considering that we hadn't played together since back in December. I still think we could do with some rockier material to balance out the slow stuff, but there's no denying Al's ability to sing a ballad. Overall a good gig, as was Saturday's show depping for Mr. Tibbs at Tropic At Ruislip. The venue usually puts on shows on Friday nights, so this was something of an experimental evening for the club. It was rather experimental from my point of view too, as I only had one rehearsal with the band and had to get to grips with material from the likes of INXS, Duran Duran and Simple Minds among (many) others, none of which I'd played before. In the event the evening exceeded expectations both in terms of the number of people in the audience and the band's performance - I thought that I'd made any number of wrong turns during the show, but talking to people afterwards everyone seemed to think that it sounded great - and I for one wasn't about to tell them that they were wrong.

Sunday night I appeared on the Music Scene Investigation podcast for the first time in several months - I initially had problems hearing the tracks to be reviewed (fortunately I decided to check that they were working before the broadcast began!) and there were a few issues with Tom's video signal during the show, but generally this was probably the most enjoyable MSI show that I've been involved with. The three songs were all of such a high standard that it was very difficult to decide which one came should come out on top, and somehow I ended up with the casting vote which I don't mind admitting was quite nerve racking. You can check out the three artists concerned via these links - Garrett HarbisonAthena Creese and World5 - and watch the show here - see if you think we (or indeed I) made the correct decision.

And last night myself and the two Terry's from The Upper Cut (Roger couldn't make it sadly) got together to discuss ideas for new songs, getting more gigs and general band stuff - we're at The Half Moon in Harrow this coming Saturday for the first time in ages which should be a good night, although I remember last time the venue had problems with neighbours who thought that the bands were playing too loud. An interesting evening in prospect then...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Horse latitudes

So then, Thursday morning in Balcony Shirts, Uxbridge. The person behind the counter in this photograph is Scott, who is wearing his latest creation, an 'I Could Eat A Horse' t-shirt. And that's Toby talking a picture of Scott. A photo of someone taking a photo? Very arty eh? Anyway Toby works for the local paper The Uxbridge Gazette who are running a story on said t-shirt in the light of the news this week about horse meat in Tesco beef burgers. (Maybe that should be 'beef' burgers?) After taking this photo the pair of them walked to the other end of the High Street where they photographed Scott outside Tescos - it'll be interesting to see if the newspaper's legal team let them print that one. As a namby pamby poncey vegetarian I have little to add here other than to say that (a) I think it's a really good t-shirt and (b) it's stories like this that make me remember why I stopped eating meat in the first place. Then again I suppose if you're going to eat it then should you really differentiate which animal it comes from? Now there's a question!

In the meantime it's been snowing, and as usual when this happens the entire country has ground to a halt. Well it feels as though it has - I was hoping to go to see a Led Zeppelin tribute band called The Black Dogz at Tropic At Ruislip but according to the venue's website the show was 'cancelled due to bad weather'. Maybe it's just as well that I don't have any gigs until next weekend? Actually it's never good not to have any gigs but I doubt that there would have been anyone watching us if we had have been playing - no doubt they'd all have been elsewhere panic buying bread or milk or something. And I was due to meet up with Andy and Sam from Back To Zero last night for a 'get-the-ball-rolling' discussion about the Cambridge gig in May and more, but common sense prevailed (that and the fact that half of The London Underground was being dug up) and we decided to postpone our meeting until the roads were a bit safer. Still there are two shows to look forward to next weekend - on Friday Big Al Reed and the Cardiac Arrests visit The Swan in Iver while the next night I'm depping with Mr. Tibbs at Tropic At Ruislip. And on Sunday evening I'm making my first appearance of the year on Music Scene Investigation podcast. That's more like it.

To end this posting on a somewhat sombre note, Wilko Johnson's farewell gig dates have been announced - tickets go on sale tomorrow (Monday) and I'm intending to be at the London show. It seems so strange to think that it'll be the last time I and many others see the great man play - if you're there I'll see you for a drink or two...

Monday, January 14, 2013

Where are we now?

Well it's been great to see the groundswell of support for Wilko Johnson in the wake of his diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer. Thousands of people have left messages of support on his Facebook page following the announcement of his condition, which goes some way to showing just what an impact he's had on the music world and indeed the lives of his fans and admirers. It was almost unworldly to read his manager's statement, as it tells of upcoming gigs, a live DVD (and that's something we fans have all hoped to hear about for ages) and a new album - there's so much to be optimistic about until it suddenly mentions 'farewell gigs' and brings us all back down to Earth. I for one read it with great sadness - I've written of my admiration for the great man's work many times in these hallowed pages, and it remains a great source of inspiration to me. So let's enjoy the remaining times that we have with Wilko - those farewell gigs should be unforgettable.

On a (considerably) brighter note, David Bowie released a new single this week. Now there's something no one expected - it's incredible that in these days of social media overload there was apparently no anticipation of 'Where Are We Now?'. It just goes to show that it's still possible to stay under the radar, although you may need Bowie's money and status to be able to do that as effectively as it's been achieved here. It's a haunting piece, very nostalgic and reflective, and very good in my not-so-humble opinion. There's an album 'The Next Day' due in March which is apparently 'rockier' that the single; this should be very interesting to hear not least because he's been working with Tony Visconti again, a collaboration has given us some of The Thin White Duke's best and most acclaimed work. Definitely something to look forward to.

First gig of the year for your humble narrator was on Friday night at The Admiral Nelson in Twickenham with The Upper Cut. I'd hardly got through the door before a fresh-faced young barman came over and told me that unless I gave him an invoice he wouldn't be able to pay us. I said something like 'erm, I'll just put my guitars down' but he carried on regardless. 'I think we normally email one in on Monday' said I - he looked confused. Fortunately Terry our singer arrived and spoke to him - 'we normally email one in on Monday' were pretty much his exact words, which for one reason or other the fresh-faced young barman suddenly seemed happy with. It must have made more sense coming from Terry than from me.
We'd spent Wednesday evening at Bush Studios in Shepherds Bush running through perspective songs to add to our repertoire - our first set included four-in-a-row (I bet you're wondering which songs we played aren't you? Well, since you asked nicely they were 'Ooh La La', 'Why Did You Do It?', 'Day Tripper' and 'The Last Time') and our second set included a go at 'In A Broken Dream' which we've tried before but never quite managed to get right. Happily all of them sounded good (I wouldn't be telling you about them if they hadn't!) which is more than could be said for 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' which was going well before I managed to lose the plot a bit during the guitar solo then played the riff in the wrong key... the normal course of action when this sort of thing happens is to glare at the keyboard player so that it (hopefully) looks as though it's their fault; however since we don't have a keyboard player I opted for Plan B - attempt to laugh it off then apologise to the band at half time. Aside from these incidents it turned out to be a really good gig, not least because we somehow found ourselves playing 'Whole Lotta Love' in the middle of 'Superstition'. That's never happened before - I wonder if it'll happen again?

Saturday saw the first live music at The Load Of Hay in Uxbridge for quite some time, when acoustic bluesman Michael Roach played a splendid set at pub regular Gary's 50th birthday party. I must admit that I'd not heard of Mr. Roach before, but aided and abetted by a slide guitarist and a double bass player he sounded good to me. Gary revealed that he'd attended one of the man's workshops on acoustic blues guitar, had kept in touch and then invited him to play at his birthday bash. A good choice, and it went down well with all concerned.

And yesterday myself and Terry the bass journeyed to The Nags Head in Sunningdale to see about a gig for The Upper Cut. Terry played there a while back depping in a band and had got on well with Jack the guv'nor; when we got there A Bit On The Side were roaring through 'Sunshine Of Your Love' and Jack distinguished himself by (a) offering us both a drink and (b) offering the band a gig on Sunday 24th March which we of course accepted. Result! If only it was always that easy...

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Not a good start to the year...

It's just been announced that Wilko Johnson has terminal cancer. He's one of the most exciting and inspirational guitarists and performers that I will ever see. This is very sad news indeed. 

Monday, January 07, 2013

In mod we trust

Mod has been in the news a lot lately, with Bradley Wiggins getting a knighthood in the wake of his success at last year's Olympic Games. (Apparently he was at the Pete Townshend book signing back in October but I didn't see him. Mind you, I wasn't looking for him!) For many mod hasn't really ever gone away, as is evidenced by events such as The Mods Mayday 2013 weekend at The Alley Club in Cambridge this coming May. The Saturday night line up includes Back To Zero whose single 'Your Side Of Heaven' is a well-thought-of artefact from the late '70s mod revival that occurred around the time of the 'Quadrophenia' film when bands like The Chords, Secret Affair and The Purple Hearts all appeared in the shadow of The Jam. So why am I telling you this? Well all things being equal (which of course they very rarely are!) I shall be playing guitar for the afore-mentioned BTZ alongside original members Sam Burnett on guitar and vocals (he's currently in Department S) and Andy Moore on drums who plays alongside me in The Flying Squad. I'm really looking forward to this - I've been listening to their album 'It's All Relative' rather a lot lately (well, I've got songs to learn!) and there's some great stuff on there. And I must say that I liked a lot of the other music from the same time (my brother played the 'Mods Mayday '79' album to death back in the day) as well as being a fan of the clothes and the general look too. Still it'll be good to try something a bit different - there's a meeting / initial rehearsal planned for later this month so we'll see how it all goes but I'm optimistic that it'll be a great thing to be involved in.

Staying with the mod theme (if a little tenuously) my first gig of the year as a spectator took place on Friday when I went back to Tropic At Ruislip to see Who's Who. I never saw The Who play with Keith Moon (I was too young - honest!) but I'm reliably informed by many who did (and indeed by no lesser person than Peter 'Dougal' Butler, Moonie's driver and assistant for many years) that the drummer in Who's Who is the nearest that any of us will see these days. He certainly seems to me to have got it right both musically and visually, which puts Who's Who in a position to be as authentic tribute to the original band that anyone is ever likely to be. I could pick holes in it all but there's no point - what they do they do very well indeed, and you can't ask for much more than that can you? Well, I don't think that you can.

My first appearance on 2013 with a guitar in my hand was at the first-Sunday-of-the-month open mic night at The Swan in Iver last night, and a very enjoyable evening it was too. John the organiser sang a few songs as did Big Al Reed, Les Payne played some solo acoustic originals, and we all wished that there were a few more people there. Still it's the first one of the year so hopefully it'll all pick up a bit for next month's February 3rd date.

And it's my first 'proper' gig of the year this coming Friday when The Upper Cut return to The Admiral Nelson in Twickenham. That should be a good night - sadly the rest of January and the whole of February are worryingly quiet at the moment. Time to get out and look for some gigs then...

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

In God we trust

...which means that the final word written in these hallowed pages in 2012 was 'paracetamol'. And last year was a headache for many wasn't it? 

I know it may look like it,  but I don't just throw this stuff together you know! 

From the guitar-playing point of view for me it saw some amazing highs - Ruts D.C. gigs rarely if ever fell below very high expectations, it's always great to work with T.V. Smith and I really did play in front of an estimated 40,000 people at Proms In The Park. At the other end of the scale unless things change radically it's unlikely that I'll play for The Chicago Blues Brothers again. I won't go to deeply into the reasons why here (maybe another time!) but suffice to say that whilst I've had some terrific times with the show over the years I've found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the way that it's all been going lately. I should perhaps have finished with the Proms show (you've got to admit, that would have been a laugh!) but at least the gig that I played after that confirmed to me that I was right to be leaving. You could argue that anyone who walks away from paid employment these days has to be either either stupid or mad (and I could very easily be both here - mind you, who hasn't been?) but it got to the stage where I honestly couldn't be part of things anymore. It's a shame, but sadly nothing lasts forever. I'm going to have to get some more work from somewhere though - anybody need a guitarist?

In the meantime with no gigs of my own to play (maybe I have been a bit hasty in leaving The CBBs!) I've been out and about watching four shows in four days - 

Friday night it was off to London's glittering West End to see The Members supported by The Pukes at The Borderline. I received a call from my old mate Tom on Thursday asking (a) if I was going to the show and (b) if I knew anywhere that Chris the bass player could borrow an amplifier from. Apparently his got left behind in Bordeaux after a gig there - ooops! A quick call to Upper Cut bassman Terry and it's all arranged... the next morning Terry called to say that Chris had just been on the phone to say that he'd plugged Terry's amp in and there'd been a flash and the smell of burning. Oh dear! 
I met the afore-mentioned Tom in The Spice Of Life around 8 o'clock; from there it was down to The Royal George to meet Chris before arriving at the venue just in time to miss The Pukes. Bugger! Still I saw most of them making a cameo appearance during 'The Sound Of the Suburbs' which I'm told gave a fairly good idea of the general scheme of things - lots of punky ladies dancing around with a chap strumming a ukulele. Sounds great doesn't it? I believe the ladies play ukuleles too... and The Members were great if a little ramshackle here and there, not least when the Roland Cube combo that Chris had borrowed for the show went wrong. After the show he described his day as 'frazzle Friday' - it certainly wasn't his day was it?

Back to Tropic At Ruislip on Saturday to catch Stranglers tribute band Straighten Out. As I walked towards the venue the unmistakable sound of 'Peaches' could clearly be heard - am I late or have they started early? And are they really as loud as that? 
Well in the first case they had started at half past nine as they were playing a two hour set, and in the second they were obliged to turn down after an hour or so as the council had been called to the club after local residents complained. There's rarely mystery in life is there? I'd missed their first 30-odd minutes but what I did see was undeniably impressive - I've always thought that The Stranglers are one of the great bands of the punk era, and even though I'm not over familiar with their later material their first few albums certainly qualify as classics of the time not least because they established a very distinctive sound. Straighten Out certainly got close, and even managed a bit of Stranglers-style crowd baiting here and there, although I had to smile when the bass player did the 'you're all a bunch of soft Southerners' routine - I always think that roughly translates as 'we're a local band and we don't leave our area much' although I suppose I could be wrong... but my Stranglers-disciple mate Big Andy said they were good and I have to agree - and I found myself being reminded just how many great Stranglers songs there are, which I guess is the mark of a decent tribute band.

Sunday I found myself a couple of stops further along The Metropolitan Line when I went to Champers in Eastcote to see The Power Of Soul. No, I don't spend too much time in places with names like 'Champers' either... but I first saw the band around 25 years ago, and these days they're something of an institution locally. It was Gavin the bass player's birthday, and an enthusiastic audience saw a good show from the band with much good cheer directed at the man himself. The more cynical among me (!) might make the point that as their act has hardly changed in a quarter of a century they should be getting good at it by now, but that would be a little unfair... maybe... but let's face it, things always goes downhill when band members swap instruments. It might make them laugh but it never sounds as good as it should do does it? Stick to what you're good at, that's what I say! Then again they were working and I wasn't so perhaps I should keep my bigoted opinions to myself?!?

And then there was last night, New Year's Eve. It's often a disappointing affair isn't it? As such it's sometimes an odd evening to be gigging on, as the weight of expectation often sinks the whole thing. This year was a bit different though, as thanks to my good friend and Cane Toads guitarist Pete I went to The Woking Leisure Centre to see local lad made good Eric Clapton who does an annual show there in aid of The Guildford Sunday Group (which I believe to be the local branch of Alcoholics Anonymous.) It was an unusual gathering - I've never been to a gig where the audience are encouraged to bring their own food and drink before, the result of which was the feeling that you were at some sort of giant indoor picnic. Interesting! Bags were searched on the way in (presumably for alcoholic drinks, which are fairly obviously banned) and the burly security men and women asked everyone in no uncertain terms not to use cameras including the one on your mobile phone. I was told that there were people queuing as early as 5 pm to get a table, which when there got to it was festooned with party hats, bunting and those neon circle thingies that you can wear around your neck. As I say, an unusual gathering.
Yes, I had to look up the meaning
of the band's name too.
I rambled on about E.C. in these hallowed pages when I saw him at The Albert Hall last year - you can read it here if you like - but the man himself looked to be having a great time playing old rock 'n' roll songs, blues numbers and even starting the show with a song from his Auntie Sylvia. The presence of Steve Winwood seemed to keep him on his toes, and he played brilliantly - then again, he usually does. All good stuff, if a little 'million-dollar-pub-band' in places - and was I the only person that thought Andy Fairweather Low couldn't have chosen a less appropriate song than 'Gin House Blues' at an A.A. event? Mind you after Gary Brooker's comment of 'you all look like you could use a drink' had gone down like the proverbial lead balloon I suppose anything was possible - after all this is the only gig that I've been too where I've been stopped in the toilet and asked if it was my first time at this sort of event. My rather lame reply of 'no, I've been to lots of gigs' was met with a triumphant 'ah, but they're all full of drunks!' I think they call that a 'good point well made'... before the encore Clapton announced that this was to be the last of these shows that he'd be doing and even mentioned possible retirement - if he does decide to stop playing then the world of the electric guitar will be a very different place without him. 

So there we are - 2012 and all that. Let's see what happens next - Happy New Year y'all...