Thursday, February 28, 2013

'Vinyl Rules!' Episode Four - Wilko Johnson

Regular readers (assuming of course that I have any!) of these hallowed pages will be well aware of my admiration for the guitar playing talents of Wilko Johnson. I first became aware of the great man's playing when I came in from school one day early in 1975 to be confronted by the sight of Dr. Feelgood on 'The Geordie Scene'. From the moment I saw him flailing at a Fender Telecaster with a maniacal bug-eyed stare whilst careering jerkily across the stage I was hooked - and the rest of the band weren't too bad either. I discovered that the band came from a semi-mythical place called Canvey Island and had released an album called 'Down By The Jetty' which was clad in a stark black and white sleeve and had been recorded in mono. I loved it. My mates didn't and thought I was mad. I've followed his career avidly ever since.

After he left Dr. Feelgood in 1977 he put together The Solid Senders and released a single and an album on Virgin Records. The 'Solid Senders' album is readily available on CD and very good it is too, especially when you factor in the six-track live album that accompanied the first vinyl pressing and is included on the CD re-issue. Sadly this edition doesn't include the single 'Walking On The Edge' which is a shame since it's a terrific reworking of a track that first appeared on the final 'Feelgoods-with-Wilko' album 'Sneakin' Suspicion'. The B-side saw the first appearance of the Wilko classic 'Dr. Dupree' which later featured on the album in a slightly different (remixed?) form. It remains unique in the Wilko cannon with it's reggae-inspired rhythms and somewhat surreal lyrics penned by Hugo Williams. It's importance as a Wilko song is underlined by it's appearance in virtually every live performance since it's release (an accolade also bestowed upon 'Everybody's Carrying A Gun' from the album) and it's an audience favourite to this day. Overall a great single - and there's apparently a promo video for the A-side although I for one have never seen it. Maybe one day? In the meantime click here for some marvellous live footage of the band around this time (which was when I first saw him play, having been just a bit too young to catch him in The Feelgoods) and links to footage from the rest of the show.

With the demise of The Solid Senders Wilko joined Ian Dury And The Blockheads for their 'Laughter' album and tour before teaming up with Lew Lewis to form (you've guessed it!) The Wilko Johnson / Lew Lewis Band. I saw them a couple of times and they were as great as you'd hope they'd be, but sadly the partnership was to be short-lived - Lew didn't stick around but Wilko continued with Russ Strutter on bass and Alex Bines on drums, releasing the 'Casting My Spell On You' / 'Looked Out My Window' single and the 'Ice On The Motorway' album. I think the album might well have been available on CD at some point (Wilko's back catalogue is very difficult to pin down!) but I'm fairly sure that the single tracks remain vinyl only. The A-side takes it's cues from the version recorded by The Pirates way back in 1963 (it came out the next year along with 'My Babe' as their 'solo' single released when they were backing Johnny Kidd; have a listen to it here - the influence of the late great Mick Green on Wilko's playing is all too apparent as you hear here) while the b-side made it into the live set for the next few years with a particularly fine version appearing on the excellent 'Watch Out!' live set. The 'Ice On The Motorway' album is well worth a listen (if you can find it!) and again several of the songs have been live staples ever since.

From there Wilko teamed up with uber-bassman Norman Watt-Roy (who he still works with today) and drummer Salvatore Ramundo to form what for many was the classic line-up of The Wilko Johnson Band - click here for a fabulous clip of them in action. These days Dylan Howe is behind the kit, and they remain one of the best live acts that it's possible to witness. In the wake of the brilliant 'Oil City Confidential' documentary he's getting more recognition than ever these days, even appearing in the T.V. series 'Game Of Thrones' playing a mute assassin (!) as well as being the subject of a Facebook campaign for him to replace Patrick Moore on 'The Sky At Night'. Strange but true. He remains a  brilliant musician and an iconic live performer who has stayed true to himself and the music he plays. The outpouring of support that followed the announcement that he's suffering from terminal cancer shows just how much he and his music mean to many people, and with the farewell shows on the horizon the level of interest in his work will surely only increase.

NB - I actually wrote most of this a couple of days before the announcement earlier last month that Wilko is suffering from terminal cancer. I'd intended to post it in early January, and after much musing in the meantime have decided to leave it more-or-less as originally written, adding only the last line and tidying it up here and there.

Friday, February 22, 2013

'Is that too loud? 'Cos I don't care!'

Well I may not be playing any gigs this week, but at least I've had chance to catch up on a few YouTube clips:-

After depping with them on Christmas Eve I've got another gig with The Atlantic Soul Machine next Saturday at Patrick's Bar in Crystal Palace. This is one of Pete Feenstra's venues - I haven't seen him for years so it'll be good to see him if he's there. Some of their material is tricky stuff as this clip demonstrates - still they've asked me to play with them again so I guess I must have done something right!
And with our new album 'Rhythm Collision Vol. 2' about to be released there are Ruts D.C. shows on the horizon - March sees shows in Newport, Bristol, Leeds, Stockton-on-Tees, Dundee and Liverpool along with an album launch party (oh yes!) in Birmingham; there are also appearances coming up at The Bearded Theory Festival in Derbyshire (I'm really looking forward to this one - apparently every year they attempt to break the World Record for the number of people wearing false beards in one place as this story shows; perhaps unsurprisingly every year they succeed!) and a return show at The Rebellion Festival in Blackpool, full details of which can be found on the band's website - in the meantime here's 'Staring At The Rude Boys' from last year's Rebellion Festival which seems to have just surfaced. Is that really me up there with a guitar in my hand? Yes, yes it is...
And it's really me in this footage of The Chicago Blues Brothers at Proms In The Park 2012 too. It's unedited so nothing much happens for the first three minutes or so, then you see us walk out as Tony Blackburn introduces us (yes, you read that bit correctly!) and we play our 25 minute set in front of approximately 50,000 people. That's around 2,000 people a minute! This turned out to be my last public performance with the band (I played a corporate show a few weeks later which if nothing else made me realise that my decision to leave the show was the correct one, sad though it was) and it really is extraordinary for me to see me and my mates all up there on that stage in front of all those people. I believe the show is now continuing with a new band - I don't know what it's like now, but it was pretty good then... 
And here is another clip that's well worth nine minutes of your time - it's Wilko Johnson (seen here demonstrating his guitar technique - very entertaining!) appearing on BBC Breakfast Television last week. I think it's an amazing, inspirational interview - have a look and see if you agree.

Monday, February 18, 2013

'Gizza job! I can do that!'

Only one gig for me this weekend, but as previously discussed I've been looking forward to this one for a while. I last depped in The Pistols back in (I think) January 2008 so when Paul / Rotten called just before Christmas to ask if I'd be available to play with the band again I jumped at the chance. I've made my admiration for The Sex Pistols clear on a number of occasions in these hallowed pages so I won't repeat myself here other than to say that I don't think rock 'n' roll guitar gets much better than when it's played by Steve Jones. Personally I've never had much time for the post-Rotten 'Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle' material (although 'Silly Thing' was pretty good!) but for me 'NMTB' and the b-sides of the associated singles is some of the most incendiary music ever written and recorded - so the chance to play it live is definitely not to be missed.
We arrived at Fat Lil's in Witney to find that co-headliners The Clashed were nowhere to be seen. After several fruitless attempts at contacting them it was clearly time to rethink the evening. We were due on at 10.30 for an hour set, but this was quickly revised to 'go on whenever you like and play for as long as you can'. Good job I looked at the 'Swindle' stuff then... 
The most expensive
amplifier stand ever?
As we were setting up Toby the drummer discovered that he had no hi-hat clutch with him - as he attempted to solve the problem with some gaffa tape (is there nothing that you can't use that stuff for?!?) I sent a text message to my mate Jon (who I'd arranged to meet later, he's also known as Johnny Guitar) to see if he knew anyone who could lend us one. Sadly he drew a blank, but in the meantime Toby had managed to improvise a solution of sorts. Meanwhile I'd been looking around for a chair or some beer crates to put my amplifier up on (I generally try to get my amp up off the ground, it helps with hearing what you're playing!) and was eventually given two small Marshall cabinets to use, which certainly looked good if nothing else.
Yes, that really is a Union Jack
handkerchief on my head...
With everything set up I went up to the bar to look for the afore-mentioned Jon but instead bumped into Alan, another old mate who has moved out into the area. It was good to catch up with him and indeed Jon who arrived while we were talking.
10.15 and it's time for 'Holidays In The Sun'. Paul is in suitably anarchic form at the front of the stage, Tim / Sid is prowling around next to him and Toby is coping very well with the ailing hi-hat. When someone shouts out 'you're shit!' Paul is straight back at him with 'you're ugly mate, but we can practise!' and the crowd love it. The set fells like it lasts no time at all, which is always the sign of a good show; we close with 'Anarchy In the U.K.' and 'Pretty Vacant' to scenes of general audience mayhem, and encores of 'Bodies', 'Friggin' In The Riggin'' (like I say, it was a good job that I looked at the 'Swindle' stuff) and 'My Way' finish a great show. Me? I haven't sweated so much at a show in ages, and my ears are still ringing. Mind you, they normally are! I hope it's not such a long time until I next play with them... and they're at Tropic At Ruislip on March 1st with The Ramonas which I'll definitely get along to if I'm not gigging that night.

Talking of not gigging I decided to use the fact that I wasn't out playing on Saturday evening to attempt to scour up some work in the Uxbridge area for The Upper Cut. First stop was The Abrook Arms where The Undersound were plying their trade - with 2 out of 3 band members suffering from the dreaded ManFlu their first set could have been a lot worse than it was. After leaving a CD with Andy the guv'nor it was down to The General Eliott to catch the second set from Power Of Soul, who sounded somewhat looser than usual although maybe the aural assault of the previous evening was beginning to catch up with me. Pausing only to sort out a gig in July (it's Simon the DJ's birthday bash - more about that nearer to the time) myself and ex-Cane Toads guitarist Pete decided to venture across the road to The Dolphin where Noel the guv'nor distinguished himself by (a) buying us both drinks and (b) offering The Upper Cut 4 gigs throughout this year including Boxing Day. Top man! In the meantime, my phone had been busy...

A plan had been hatched earlier on Saturday for another Back To Zero get-together on Sunday, this time involving perspective bass player Rob. All seemed straightforward enough, until Rob told Sam that he couldn't make it after all. In the course of their conversation it emerged that he couldn't really commit enough time to the project so him and Sam suggested that it was probably be best if he wasn't involved, which was announced to me while we were at The Abrook Arms with a text message that read 'it's time to get The Squirrel in'. Over the next couple of hours texts and conversations went back and forth, the end result of which was that my old Chicago Blues Brothers mate Johnny Squirrel met up with Sam, Andy and myself on Sunday afternoon in North London  to discuss tactics. The meeting went so well that we are very likely to find ourselves in a rehearsal studio in the not-too-distant future. This is good news - it'll be great to work with Squirrel again, and there are some really good songs to play. 
From there it was back to Uxbridge (incidentally due to track repair I was obliged to travel the entire length of The Piccadilly Line in both directions. How cool is that!) to continue with my gig-getting frenzy by heading down to The Crown And Treaty where a jam night was in progress. Old mates Pete, Grant and Sam were cheerily propping up the bar - they somehow managed to talk me into playing 'In A Rut' and 'Johnny B. Goode' with them. I'm really wary about borrowing a guitar (I always think I'm going to break it, or that it'll suddenly fall apart!) but I managed to play the songs without anything awful happening. After a couple of drinks with the lads and getting a couple of possible gig dates it was time to walk down to The Crown in Cowley where an acoustic session was in progress. I've known Dave there for quite a while and he coerced me into playing a few songs, although by then I was flagging a bit. In fact I can really remember what they were! Still I dropped a CD in there too, so hopefully there'll be a chance to return there with an electric guitar sometime.

And I've got no gigs this coming weekend either - bah! Oh well, perhaps I'll go out and look for some more then too...

Monday, February 11, 2013

No sleep 'til Twickenham?

Well I'd be lying if I said that The Troggs were one of my all time favourite bands, but I was still saddened to hear of the death of Reg Presley. I saw the band live once, rather implausibly supporting Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow at The Wembley Arena in (I think) the early 1980s. I remember him saying something like 'Ritchie only called us this week to offer us the gig' and in doing so sounded almost as bemused as around 90% of the audience were over their presence at the gig. Incidentally they were very good, and he always seemed to me to be quite a character, what with his research into crop circles and his contributions to the once-heard-never-forgotten Troggs Tapes. And let's face it, 'Wild Thing' was a bit of a classic wasn't it?

Two good gigs this weekend for your humble narrator, the first of which was with Big Al Reed And The Cardiac Arrests at The Admiral Nelson in Twickenham. We had a rehearsal on Tuesday evening during which Al produced a piece of paper with suggestions and ideas for a new name for the band. He seemed very pleased with 'Big Al Reed And The Blistering Buicks' to which he then added 'featuring General Leigh' to the amusement of all concerned including myself. I thought 'The Alpines' was pretty good myself but what do I know? Anyway we've not had a competition here for a while so let's have one now - can you think of a name for the band? As always answers on a postcard please, usual address...
See you down the front!
I feel as though I've spent a lot of time at this venue lately, which is no bad thing although it can get a bit noisy in there sometimes. Mind you judging by this poster it's certainly going to get a lot noisier if the show advertised as happening on February 16th is anything to go by... I should point out that according to other leaflets around the pub Cry Wolf are playing on that date - I wonder why the poster says Motorhead? Very strange. Anyway this was definitely our best show to date despite Terry the bass feeling a bit under the weather - by the end of the night he was virtually slumped over his bass amplifier. This is an unfortunate situation to be in at the best of times, but it was made all the more unfortunate by the landlady's enthusiastic demands for us to keep playing a long time after we were due to have finished. It's usually a good thing to see the boss of a pub that you're playing in up and dancing, but I'm sure that in this case Terry might not agree. In the meantime Pete joined us on guitar for a few songs (he's going to be depping for me next month while I'm away on Ruts D.C. duty) and Big Al on top form throughout, and although I feel that we could still benefit from a few more rockier songs it was still a good gig.

On Saturday evening The Upper Cut returned to The Dolphin in Uxbridge for the first time this year. It had been crowded when we played there on Boxing Day but it was absolutely packed this time which it'd be nice to think was due to our pulling power but actually had more to do with there being three birthday parties taking place in the building. We'd also had a rehearsal earlier in the week during which we ran through several new songs all of which made it into the show. Terry absolutely excelled on vocals (particularly on one of the new numbers 'I've Been Drinking' which on this showing could become something of a showcase for him), Terry the bass was feeling (and indeed playing) a lot better and Roger was as solid as ever behind the drum kit, and with much audience merriment throughout a great gig ensued. It's a great band to play in - we really must get some more gigs... and my third rehearsal of the week took place yesterday, when I got together with Sam and Andy from Back To Zero to work on more material for our upcoming Mods Mayday 2013 show in Cambridge. We've looked at all the likely material now, so I'm intending to spend some time over the next few days going through it and working out my parts. But there are more songs to look at this week, with the afore-mentioned Ruts D.C. shows to prepare for (more about them in due course) and a gig depping with The Pistols for the first time in ages this Friday at the splendidly-named Fat Lil's in Witney. Now that's something to really look forward to! 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Can you (afford to) see the real me?

The Who have finally announced British and European dates for the 'Quadrophenia' show that they're currently touring America with, and unlike the Wilko Johnson farewell shows tickets seem to be reasonably easy to obtain - well they are as long as you join the fan club on the band's official website. And it's even easier to obtain a V.I.P. package although with standard ticket prices edging ever nearer to the £100 mark I dread to think how much these would be. Actually I could just brave looking them up couldn't I? Hang on... oo-er - the Emerald Package is £245, the Ultimate Fan Experience £375 and the Signature Fan Experience £495. Am I the only person that thinks that this has all gone too far? 'Quadrophenia' is one of my all-time favourite albums and I guess I'll be at one or more of the shows, but it's all getting far too corporate for me. Maybe that's just how things are going these days, but I for one don't like it. Then again perhaps I should cheer up and go along and enjoy the music? It is the mighty 'Quadrophenia' after all...

Friday's Good Old Boys gig at Hayes Working Men's Club turned out to be a highly enjoyable affair on several levels. It was a rather longer evening than I for one was expecting, with three 40 minute sets meaning more than a few 'we-haven't-done-this-one-for-a-while' songs appeared among the expected material. This of course made little difference to me as I didn't know any of them! I played a few numbers with the band back in 199-something at a birthday party for ex-Episode Six drummer John Kerrison and did a show around 2003 in a very big house out in the sticks but other than that I was, as I think the saying goes, 'flying by the seat of my pants'. Simon was very helpful, Hud made all the endings slightly more obvious than usual, Alan was as authoritative as ever out the front, and Nick - well, standing a few feet from him I was all too aware that this really was the bloke out of Johnny Kidd And The PiratesDeep Purple and all those other bands. I'd not really met him before bar a quick hello here and there but he was a thoroughly nice chap with some amazing stories as you might well imagine. We played 'Shaking All Over' (shame we didn't play 'Hush'!) and as the solo approached Simon gestured over at me with a smile - at the end of the song Nick said something like 'Johnny Kidd would have been proud of that solo'. I have rarely stopped smiling since.

The Upper Cut returned to The Half Moon in Harrow on Saturday evening for a show that was definitely a game of two halves. Terry vocal microphone wasn't working properly from the word go - the P.A. amplifier had just come back from Roger the amplifier repair man so we knew that was (hopefully!) working properly so it had to be a mic problem. It's a radio mic so he changed the batteries but with no improvement he used my mic for the first set, which was a somewhat scrappy affair - maybe we were a bit unnerved but a couple of songs went wrong and the whole thing was a bit of an uphill struggle. During the interval Terry discovered that the output level in the transmitter was set lower than usual - thankfully turning it up cured the problem and we went on to play a second set that was the polar opposite of the first, with everything falling into place and an encore of 'Route 66' bringing the proverbial house down. We're back at The Dolphin in Uxbridge this Saturday for a birthday party - hopefully we'll carry on where the second set left off.

Sunday saw the first Back To Zero get-together, in which Sam, Andy and myself ran through arrangements for eight songs which should make it into the live set at our upcoming Mods Mayday show. Using the 'It's All Relative' album as a reference (it features Sam and original singer Brian in home studio mode with programmed drums and overdubs a-plenty) we split guitar parts between myself and Sam while Andy, who is actually the drummer in the band, played along on bass. It all sounded pretty good to me, and another meeting is planned to run through the rest of the proposed set before full rehearsals with a bassist and keyboard player in the not-too-distant future. There's lots to look forward too here, and there is already talk of more gigs and possible recording sessions. Excellent!

And last night it was up to The 12 Bar Club with Esso and Nigel from GLM (and previously The Lurkers of course; incidentally there's a great article on the Nuzz Prowling Wolf blog about GLM which you can read here) and their mate Scottish Stuart to catch a solo show from Tug Wilson. When I was a lad Tug was in a band local to us called The Injections, and these days he plays with Nigel in Pack Of Lies. His 35 minute set showed that he's not lost the knack of writing good songs (I saw The Injections a couple of times back in the day including a support slot to Wild Horses at Brunel University, the band's material was mostly written by him and very good it was too) and it all went well especially considering it was as far as I know his first solo gig. Also on the bill were Alpha Earth Light and Boss Caine - the former are a Austrian guitar and drums duo (now there's something that you don't find yourself writing every day!) which made a fearsome sound for a two piece while the latter (on this occasion a chap called Daniel Lucas, although I think there is a band line up too) had the chap next to me calling him a 'British Tom Waits' which isn't a bad thing if you think about it. In the meantime much drinking and jollity ensued - a good evening all round.

This week there's the afore-mentioned Upper Cut gig along with Big Al and co. at The Admiral Nelson in Twickenham on Friday - and then things start to get very interesting indeed. More about that next time.

Friday, February 01, 2013

(Deep) Purple Hayes

So there I was, minding my own business sometime around twelve hours ago, when my phone rang - it was Alan Barratt, lead singer with local rock 'n' roll legends The Good Old Boys. The conversation went something like this :-

ALAN - 'Are you working tomorrow night?'
LEIGH - 'Er, no.'
ALAN - 'You are now.'

- which means that I'm playing at Hayes Working Mens Club with The Good Old Boys tonight. Original Deep Purple member Nick Simper is on bass, Richard 'Hud' Hudson from The Strawbs, Hudson Ford and all those other famous bands is on drums, amazing country rock guitar comes from ex - Renaissance man Simon Bishop and the afore-mentioned Alan (ex - Jo Jo Gunne) is on vocals. Their usual guitarist Pete Parks isn't well - he played in Warhorse with Nick. Do you ever get the feeling that you could be out of your depth? Oh and I don't know any of their material. Attempts to point this out to Alan received a response along the lines of 'it's easy, it's just rock ' n roll'. I've got their album 'Live At The Deep Purple Convention' playing in the background as I type this - what they're doing doesn't sound too 'easy' to me. Still, I'm not going to learn any of it by sitting here typing am I? Better get the guitar out - this should be a very interesting evening...