Monday, March 25, 2013

Young, gifted and skint

Well that was a busy few days in mad-guitar-World...

On Thursday night The Skints played at Brunel University in Uxbridge. I'd heard a lot about the band not least from my old friend Andy Peart (more about him in a minute) but had never seen them or indeed heard much by them. This was a good chance to rectify the situation although since the show was a 'student only' event (I thought they stopped doing that sort of thing years ago?!?) I was doubtful that I'd be able to attend - fortunately the afore-mentioned Andy knows the band and managed to get my name on the guest list. I spent a good amount of the first song trying to work out where the lead vocal was coming from (I never spot a singing drummer!) which set the tone for the rest of the evening as the young lady in the middle played a bewildering array of instruments - keyboards, guitar, flute, saxophone and probably some more that I've forgotten - during the course of their set. Equally bewildering was their choice of Sam Cooke's 'You Send Me' as a cover version - a great song but for me a bit out of place. Still a good gig overall and I'm glad that I managed to see the band at last.

Incidentally Andy used to write for Sounds magazine as well as producing the excellent 'So What' fanzine - he now writes for 'Vive Le Rock' and has a piece on Ruts D.C. in the next edition. Excellent!

Talking of Ruts D.C. - at last weekend's show in Stockton-on-Tees several people told me that Stiff Little Fingers had played 'Staring At The Rude Boys' at their Newcastle gig the previous evening. I've since discovered that they've been playing it on the whole tour with Jake Burns preceding it with words to the effect of 'if you saw this band you were very lucky'. Sometime during the day on Thursday I received a call from Segs asking me to 'have a guess what I'm doing tomorrow night'...
Myself and my old punk mate Pete made it through the wind and rain to The Assembly House in Kentish Town for 8.30pm. I'd told Pete something like 'a mate of mine is working with SLF' and we were to meet him in said public house at the allotted time; the first gig he ever went to was Ruts D.C. at The Fulham Greyhound in 1981, and his face when Segs came over was a sight to behold. After a quick drink we walked over the road to The Forum where the band were due on at 9.30pm. I've always been something of a fan of the band, having first seen them around the time of the 'Hanx!' live album. These days Ali McMordie is back on bass (replacing Bruce Foxton) and they sound pretty much the same as they ever did i.e. very good indeed. Several new songs were featured, and they all sounded good enough for me to say that the projected new album should be well worth getting. After the main set finished with 'Suspect Device' they went off for a few minutes before returning for Jake to say a few words before introducing Segs who came on to a hero's welcome. 'A blistering version!' said Dave Ruffy as the song ended and I have to agree. (You can find out how good it was for yourself if you click here.) After the show we met up with Segs (he and Dave were immediately collared by fans for photographs) and then myself, Pete and punk gig stalwart Coppo went to the aftershow party in the upstairs bar. We set ourselves a curfew of midnight, which was just as well given that we got back to Pete's car to find that the hazard warning lights were flashing. We decided that someone must have bumped into it as Pete was certain that he hadn't left them on - either way we were faced with the grim prospect of a flat battery. 'Don't worry lads' I said with far too much confidence given what happened next, 'I'm in Green Flag'. I get membership with my bank account - but when I spoke to them I found that I doesn't cover me in someone else's car and that wed have to pay a call out charge (£108!) and further charges according to what then had to be done. Bugger! After a suitable amount of swearing Pete came up with a plan - ring around cab companies and see if any of them have any jump leads. Within 10 minutes we were pushing the car from Kentish Town Road into a side street where a cabbie gave up a jump start (at a cost of £10) and we were on our way. An eventful evening - but that 'ring a cab company' idea from Pete was a good one wasn't it?   
T.V. and Leigh share a
'Status Quo moment'.

My only gig of the weekend was my first show of 2013 with T.V. Smith, at The New Cross Inn in New Cross. (I've been looking forward to typing 'New Cross Inn in New Cross' all weekend. It's a simple life sometimes isn't it?) Coppo offered myself and T.V. a lift to the show (that's another drink I owe you mate) but heavy-ish traffic meant that we sadly arrived too late to see the wonderfully-named Fishtits meaning that as I can't find them anywhere on the Internet we can only speculate on how they sound; however I did see Emergency Bitter (great raucous fun), On Trial UK (good old school punk) and The Phobics (excellent garage-y rock 'n' roll) all of whom were very entertaining. From our point of view we'd had a rehearsal on Wednesday which went well but I'd not had chance to run through the songs between then and the show meaning that I felt a little under-prepared. Whether this was the reason I started 'You Saved My Life Then Ruined It' in the wrong key I guess we'll never know. (It sounded terrible! T.V. thought that it was his fault - it wasn't!) That aside the show went very well, including responding to a call from the audience for 'The Servant' (we hadn't rehearsed that one or played it for ages - here it is from the gig!) and with T.V. as wonderfully energetic as ever. After the gig a chap came over and asked me if I'd sung with SLF the night before - he seemed terribly disappointed when I told him that it wasn't me. Well - it wasn't! In the meantime T.V. did a roaring trade in t-shirts and CDs including his latest re-issue, a Cheap anthology. I've been looking forward to this for some time, not least because I've written some sleeve notes for it - a blog posting on my (brief) involvement with the band will follow shortly but in the meantime you can get the disc from T.V.'s website here. I can't recommend it highly enough!

Back To Zero reconvened at Soundlab Studios in Loughton yesterday morning. Andy, Sam and Squirrel had got together in my absence last weekend, and we continued the good work with more progress being made and everybody pronouncing themselves happy with the way that things are going. There's still a fair bit of work to do before our gigs in May (more about them nearer the time) but it's all sounding very encouraging.
From there I made my way to The Crown and Treaty in Uxbridge for the monthly open mic / jam night (actually more of a 'jam early-evening') which proved to be a highly enjoyable affair. It also proved to be a rather longer and shall we say 'confusing' session than I for one was anticipating so the exact details are sketchy, but it was a good way to end the weekend. That said I've got to leave in a half hour or so for an Upper Cut rehearsal, and I don't mind admitting that I feel, to use a technical term, absolutely knackered. Still the last thing that I'm going to do is complain - on Wednesday T.V. said that I'd 'spent too long in the wilderness' and that it was great to see me so busy. It was a nice thing for him to say, and without counting too many chickens there does seem to be a change in the air at the moment on many levels, although next month is significantly quieter than this one and I still don't seem to have very much money... ah well, let's see what happens next.

Well what happens next is a launch party for the new Ruts D.C. album 'Rhythm Collision Volume 2' this Friday at The Hare And Hounds in Birmingham. I've never had a launch party before! It should be fun... and I'm on Music Scene Investigation this Sunday evening at 9pm - on with the big headphones once again!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Distant relatives

I have just - just! - returned from playing four shows with Ruts D.C. :-

Not a bad evening's
After a suitably long 'it's-Friday-afternoon-traffic' journey with new face Mark behind the steering wheel we arrived at The Brudenell Rooms in Leeds around 5pm. We're on with T.V. Smith (who I hadn't seen since our duo gig at The 12 Bar Club before Christmas - we're playing our first show of this year at The New Cross Inn this coming Saturday - and who has been on tour in Europe with The U.K. Subs for the last few weeks) and Louise Distras (who was also on The 12 Bar Club show and who has also been on tour in Europe) so there's a fine evening in prospect. We're set up and soundchecked in good time - I'm putting my guitar away and talking to T.V. and Louise when I sneeze, sneeze again, then look down to see blood at my feet. Time for a nosebleed then... Louise helpfully fetches a handful of tissues and I spend T.V.'s soundcheck sitting on the stage trying to stop the blood flow. Dramatic eh? Actually it was pretty horrible, at one point literally streaming out. Urgh! Meanwhile the rest of the band went to check in at our hotel while the nosebleed eventually stopped and I watch Louise's soundcheck before setting up our merchandise stall. Chris the promoter opened the doors at 7 o'clock and people began arriving straight away - T.V. Smith mega-fan T.J. says hello and fellow Wilko Johnson obsessive Alan turns up with his two sons and presents me with a DVD of Wilko in Japan in 1992 and a 1995 tour programme (top man!) while the wonderfully-named Paul Newman asks me if The Price will be playing anywhere this year. I wonder if we will?
Just before 8 o'clock I bump into Louise who says 'I hope I don't break any strings' as she's making her way towards the stage; she doesn't but she does play an excellent set as does T.V. Smith. Then again, he usually does. By the time we went on the place was all but sold out, there's people dancing from the off and the show goes brilliantly. After encoring with 'In A Rut' and 'H-Eyes' we return to the dressing room but the audience is still going crazy and we somehow find ourselves back on stage - but we've played everything that we know, so what shall we do?
We'd had a rehearsal on Thursday evening during which we tightened up a few songs and began looking at other material that could possibly find it's way into the show. One of the songs that we tried was 'Generations' a song Segs recorded with Joe Strummer and Rat Scabies under the somewhat unlikely name of Electric Doghouse. We all agreed that it was definitely one to bear in mind for the future - unbeknownst to us the future was only one day away... it could be argued that in these days of YouTube it's not a good idea to play a song that you don't know, but we did it anyway! How did it sound? Like this...
After the show Mark and myself do a roaring trade on the merchandise stall and Dave and Segs signed old albums and singles, not-quite-so-old CDs, posed for photographs and made a lot of people very happy. I was even asked to do a couple of photos myself!
My first sight of Bewley's Hotel (I didn't go there earlier, remember?) included a couple of likely lads with their trousers around their ankles outside the main entrance. Friday night in Leeds then... Seamus and myself decide that we want to see what's going on so get a couple of drinks amid sights and sounds of great drunkenness and jollity from stag parties, hen parties and parties generally. A couple of chairs away from us a chap slides off his seat onto the floor a bit like a cartoon character might, he's out cold and his friends can't wake him up - suddenly the atmosphere changes and the hotel staff summon two paramedics and a voice over the tannoy asks us all to move out from the bar into the entrance hall. A few minutes later two of his friends are helping the now-just about-upright man towards the lift - 'we've never had a night like this!' says the barman cheerily as we hand him our glasses and chaos resumes all around us. Later we take the lift to the 4th floor where we're sharing room 441 - as the doors open there's a large upturned plant pot in front of us with flowers and soil everywhere. Why do people do things like that?

The next day begins in a leisurely manner that's very welcome after the previous day and evening. After breakfast we check out at midday and by 2 o'clock we're arriving at The Sporting Lodge Hotel in Middlesbrough. After checking in (Seamus and myself get room 122) it's time for some food - I get an excellent arrabiatta pasta which I just about finish before my nose starts bleeding again. Urgh!
It's only a short drive to The Georgian Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees and we're loading our gear in not long after 5 o'clock. Steve the promoter has got a couple of lads to help us carry our equipment (hurrah!) and we've got Green Dragon Studios to use as a dressing room. Soundcheck is a bit more involved than on the previous evening with the drum sound posing a few problems for our soundman Nick but he eventually gets everything sounding great. 
Support comes from The Clashed who I met last summer when The Flying Squad played with them; they've still got Joe and Mick the wrong way around (as you can see here) and they still do a good job of recreating the sound and the fury of The Clash, which is much appreciated by the rapidly-arriving crowd. The show has sold out in advance which usually bodes well for things but in this case it felt as though it all took a while to get going - we start with three reggae-based songs which I don't think was quite what the audience was expecting. There was a chap standing right at the very front wearing a white Ruts logo t-shirt who didn't look too happy until our fourth song 'Backbiter' when he suddenly bursts into life, as did many of the people around him. It was definitely harder work than the previously evening although as you can see if you watch the show here it all came good in the end. 
As I'm putting my guitar away a chap comes over, he's says that he really enjoyed the show but wondered if he seen me supporting The Ruts in Middlesbrough back in the day, wearing glasses and playing rock 'n' roll songs. He looks disappointed when I tell him that it wasn't me but was a chap called Auntie Pus (who incidentally has just written this blog piece on last week's Bristol show. Thanks Julian!)
I always wanted to be
 a tourist attraction!

It's a 5-ish hour drive to the next show so we set out at 11 o'clock on Sunday morning. 'Snow capped peaks to our right' says Dave as we pass through some spectacular scenery on our way to Dundee. We stop at a motorway service station where we see a poster for the gig in the tourist information display - excellent!
We arrived at The Reading Rooms just after 5pm. (Again! It's always 5pm!) Promoter Jim is a massive fan of the band and was present at a legendary Dundee gig back in 1979 when Segs and Malcolm let him and his friends in through a back window. There are only a few tickets left and he's hopeful that the gig will be a sellout which makes the already good mood in the band even better. The P.A. is superb and the sound is absolutely excellent - Dave and myself jam on 'Lust For Life' for no other reason than 'we just started playing it'.
I'm behind the merchandise table again as Jock Hart arrives, he's a big fan of the band (as you can tell from this review that he wrote of the evening) and it's good to see him again. Business is brisk and I sadly spend much of the support set by The Spitfires presiding over a merchandising frenzy although I managed to see their last few songs including a version of 'Career Opportunitiesand I thought that they sounded great. A difficult band to follow, but follow them we do with a storming performance, one of the best that we have yet played. Afterwards we sell umpteen CDs, run out of Ruts logo t-shirts and meet people who say that it was the best show that they've ever seen by anybody ever. A successful evening's work.

It was another early start yesterday as our last show of what Dave called our 'tourette' was at Eric's in Liverpool. I thought breakfast finished at 10.30 but it actually stopped half an hour earlier meaning that I ate a bowl of muesli standing up looking out over The River Tay as clearing up went on all around me. 
I spent a fair amount of the journey to Liverpool drifting in and out of consciousness - the last few days were catching up with me! We stopped at Lockerbie Service Station for food and fuel (Nick pronounced his burger as 'a mistake') and found our way to Liverpool in good time (can you guess what time we arrived?!?) with Mark reversing into Mathew Street from North John Street with great aplomb. It's a long load-in as we have to walk our equipment past The Cavern and down a seriously steep flight of stairs into the club. As we're setting up I say hello support band Biteback's guitarist Richie who also plays in The Crows, he says how much he's looking forward to the evening and I tell him he's not the only one...
After soundchecking I went upstairs to call my cousin Steve (my phone wouldn't work in the club) who lives over the water in Birkenhead and who is coming to see us play. Or is he? He's got no money, not even enough for the train fare to Liverpool but he's waiting for his next door neighbour to come in as he's going to lend him the cash. When I ask him how much he needs his answer of £6 seems barely believable. I think about how often we all squander money (well, I certainly do!) but if you've got nothing then even a small sum of money seems like a fortune. I tell him I'll call him back in a while to see how he's getting on - in the meantime we walk through the city to The Holiday Inn opposite Lime Street Station. We're checking in as Molara meets a couple of friends who are coming along to the show. Hmm... he looks familiar... she introduces me to 'Jamie' and I realise that it's Jamie Reid - I mumble something about how much I like his work to which he smiles and says that he's really looking forward to seeing the show. Excellent.
As I walk back towards Eric's I call Steve - it's not going well, his mate still hasn't arrived and time is getting on, I tell him to get a cab over to the top of Mathew Street where I'll meet him and pay for it and his return fare home but he gets upset saying that he doesn't want charity, I tell him that it's not charity it's family and that he can pay me back sometime if he wants to and then I'm getting upset too... by now I've walked past the turning to the venue and along Duke Street towards the Ferry landing stage and I'm looking out across The River Mersey and can see the lights of Birkenhead over the water, he's only over there but he might as well be on another planet, neither of us knows what to do but he says he'll call me back if his mate turns up. I stand on the landing stage looking across the river - me and my brother Terry grew up with Steve and his late brother Gary, they were more like our older brothers than our cousins and as I stand there I can remember a thousand things that we've done together. I feel helpless; I also feel very alone. Bugger. I walk back up the hill, past The Liverpool pub near James Street Station where Steve's train would come in, past a bus queue, back up Duke Street, feeling like I didn't know anything anymore... then as I turn into North John Street my phone suddenly rings - it's Steve's girlfriend Lizzie who says that his mate's come home and lent him some money and he's getting ready to come out to the gig and will be with me in a half hour or so. Amazing! Steve comes on the phone sounding like he's won the lottery and saying that everything's ok and he'll see me soon. Thank God for that... by the time I get to the club I'm in a much better frame of mind, as I'm about to go downstairs a chap asks me what time the band are on, as I tell him 9.30 he spots my Bored Teenager badge that T.V. Smith gave me on Friday night and we're all smiles as we both agree how great his latest album is. What a difference a few minutes can make eh? As I turn towards the club I see Phil from Louder Than War who apparently was standing there all the time. I really did have other things on my mind didn't I?
8.30 and Biteback take to the stage. It's their first show as a four piece, the young lady on rhythm guitar looks a bit reticent at first but things soon get going. They play 'English Civil War' (it was definitely a weekend for Clash cover versions!) which fits in well among their own material and they go down better and better as their show progresses. Then I spot a familiar figure in the doorway - it's Steve. I don't remember the last time that I was so pleased to see someone.
'And I... wanna be...
9.30 and we're on - the place isn't full but there's definitely enough people in to make it work (the show was slotted in at the last minute and as Ethan at the club put it, 'it's a Monday night and the day after St. Patrick's Day') but what they lack in numbers they more than made up for in enthusiasm. The show is a bit looser than the others with lots of storytelling from Segs and Dave coming out to the front of the stage to thank everyone for coming and to introduce the band. Overall it's a great show to end this run of gigs with, and in the dressing room Steve tells me that he really enjoyed it which means everything to me. Then Jamie Reid came over and asked me if I'd like him to sign my guitar - I'd half-jokingly said it to Molara earlier and she'd arranged it with him, meaning that I might well have the only Jamie Reid signature model Les Paul in existence. Strange but true. Then it's time for Steve to catch his train home, we blather at each other like kids, share a hug and then he's gone. I'm so glad that he made it along.
With everything packed away it's time to go back to the hotel - or is it? Phil asks me if I fancy a drink so we adjourn to The Grapes for an hour or so. As a young man plays guitar and sings over backing tracks in the other bar and Beatle - hunting tourists take endless photos of the walls he asks about the last few days - I say that I must have shaken 100 hands and heard the words 'I've waited over 30 years for this night' almost as many times. You don't know how lucky you are sometimes do you?

This morning I was in the hotel shower, thinking about how great the shows and the last few days had been, what the music means to me and to the audience, the mixture of emotions that the previous night had bought out in me - as I rinsed the soap off my face I opened my eyes to see blood on my hands. Another nosebleed. Back to the real world. You don't get something for nothing do you?  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

'You think they might have finished building the venue before they hired it to us...'

Time for the first Ruts D.C. shows of 2013, at The 200 Club in Newport and The Fleece in Bristol :-

It's Friday not long after 1pm, and the doorbell has just gone. A familiar figure can be seen through the frosted glass... 'punk rock insurance' says John 'Segs' Jennings of Ruts D.C. offering his right hand. I shake it and smile - 'not today thank you'. Behind him is Marc the driver who I meet for the first time, in the van is Nick the soundman (the rest of the band - Dave Ruffy on drums, newly-bearded Seamus Beaghan on keyboards and Molara on vocals - are making their own way) and it's only a few minutes before my gear and myself are on board and we're on the road. We wend our way along the M4, stopping at Reading Services for sandwiches and petrol - Segs walks over to someone he obviously recognises, greets them with a hug and then comes back smiling - 'Life on the road eh? That's Dave Barbarossa'. And it was.
Handouts and passes
for the shows.
Leaky roof and
Banksys not pictured.
We arrived in Newport just before 5 O'Clock, and at The 200 Club quite a while after - the sat. nav. let us down at the last minute, meaning that a very precarious bit of reversing up Stow Hill was seriously considered before we opted to call the venue and go around the block, arriving at the venue (eventually!) by rather more conventional methods. Ziggy and John of Death Or Glory Promotions are putting on both nights, and arriving at the club it's clear that neither of them are happy with things. The roof is leaking in several places, not least over the left side of the stage making the show a somewhat dangerous proposition. Attempts are being made to fix the problem but it's obvious that there's a lot to do before showtime. We ask where the dressing room is and are shown a small alcove that's cordoned off from the main room by a curtain - not ideal as Seamus discovers when he puts a shoeless foot down on the soaking wet floor, but no one complains. It's a case of 'let's get on with it' - so we do. All things considered our sound check goes well (although Seamus is rather precariously placed a bit nearer to the edge of the stage than he'd like in a attempt to avoid any water landing on him) and we leave support bands Criminal Mind and Foreign Legion to set up while we go off in search of some food. We find The Queen's Hotel where 2 meals for £6.59 is too good a deal to miss. (It's all glamour this rock 'n' roll lark I can tell you!) We linger a while then decide to go back to the van to run through a few songs and check some backing vocals. (See what I mean!) We walk past a club called Six Feet Under which is advertising an intriguingly-named night called The Love Surgery (!) before arriving back at the bus and playing for 20 minutes or so, which we all agree was well worth doing.
10pm and we're ready to go - an hour-and-a-quarter it's all over bar a not-inconsiderable amount of shouting. It was a good show (especially considering the risk of possible electric shock) but we all agree that the best is yet to come. Meanwhile I join Marc behind the merchandise desk while Dave and Segs sign all and sundry for all and sundry and I'm approached by a lady who asks if could have my plectrum and then tells me that I have 'magic fingers' - you can do your own punchline if you like... as we're getting ready to leave John asks me if I've 'met Keith yet'? When I say no he takes me over to a unassuming chap who turns out to be ex-Clash and Public Image Ltd. guitarist Keith Levene. Excellent!
We're staying at the Bristol Filton Holiday Inn which should only be 30 minutes or so from the venue but with part of the M4 closed it takes a bit longer than it should. When we arrive we find that breakfast closes at 10.30am, we don't have to check out until 2 in the afternoon and the bar is still open. Result! Beers are bought and Dave treats himself to a bottle of wine; he looks very pleased with himself until he discovers that it's 'corked' (one for the 'Fawlty Towers' fans there!) but the barman changes it for a more expensive bottle straight away. The mood is good and we're all looking forward to the next night's show. It's good when that happens.

I managed to (ahem!) leap into action in time to catch breakfast, and I'm glad I did as it was excellent. I'm sharing room 104 with Seamus who finds 'The Professionals' on TV which we both find highly entertaining and indeed amusing. By the time 2 o'clock comes around we're all ready to head into town where we find The Fleece open so we load our gear in - at which point Dave discovers that he's left his drum mat in Newport. Bah! He heads off to get it while the rest of have a couple of hours to fill before sound check. I decide to go off into town in search of a Banksy or two - I look one up on my phone, programme in the street name and start walking... and walking... and walking... no one I ask for directions seems to be from Bristol ('I'm from Cardiff!' was one particularly brisk reply) so after probably the most indirect route ever I eventually find it. I then realise that there's one quite close to the venue so decide to look for that one, which turns out to be much easier to find.
Sound check is a simple enough affair and takes little time, after which Dave and Segs go off to do an interview with Andy Peart (accompanied by Adrian who writes the splendid Aural Sculptors blog) from Vive Le Rock magazine while Marc and myself set up the merchandise table and people begin arriving. A chap comes over and introduces himself as Steve, and then tells me that he saw The Price at this venue supporting The Lurkers in 1990. Amazing! Then an ecstatic Dave comes over with an original Ruts fan called Steve and his son George who have just presented him with two scrapbooks - they look like they have pretty much every article on the band from the time along with press releases and more. An extraordinary collection and a great thing to have.
Criminal Mind are on again with Ruptured Life as first support, both of them play well although I spend much of their sets doing a brisk trade behind the merchandise table and talking to quite a few audience members who are have 'waited 30 years' for our show. No pressure then...
All the band felt that this would be a better show that the previous night (not that there was much wrong with that, but you know what I mean) with the nearly-sold-out crowd getting going from the word go and the band reacting accordingly with a tight, powerful performance. That said it wasn't all good news - someone threw a can at the stage which landed at my feet just as we finished 'Back Biter' (I didn't think that it was that bad! Actually you can see the can arrive at the very end of this footage from the show...) which is the sort of thing that I for one had hoped had stopped happening years ago, but that was the only negative thing about the show. Afterwards it's even busier on the merch and I meet Auntie Pus a.k.a. Julian who is a friend of Dave and Segs's from way back when and someone who I saw support the original band on a couple of occasions.  He seemed to be a nice chap (I spoke to him a couple of times back in the day and remember that he was ok then as well) and was very complementary about the show, which is a nice thing to hear from someone who was there originally. A great weekend's work.

You can read Adrian's review of his evening here... and there are four more Ruts D.C. shows coming up this week, it's Leeds on Friday, Stockton-on-Tees on Saturday, Dundee on Sunday and Liverpool on Monday then there's a week off before an album launch party in Birmingham at the end of the month - full details are on the band's website. Oh yes!

Sunday evening it was up to Koko in Camden for the second and last London show of Wilko Johnson's farewell tour. Viv Albertine was on first and Eight Rounds Rapid on before the main attraction - both were excellent but Wilko and the band (joined by Slim on accordion for a couple of numbers) were just amazing, one of the best shows I've ever seen them give. As with Wednesday's show there was no mention of his illness, although he did look somewhat overwhelmed by the intensity of the crowd's reaction at the end. And why not? He's given us, the audience, so much over the years so he deserves to be treated like a hero at this stage of the game. A wonderful performance from a great musician - if that turns out to be the last time that I see him play then that's a fine show to remember him by.

And last night it was off to G Live in Guildford to see The Stranglers supported by The Godfathers. Myself and Big Andy arrived at the early hour of 4pm - I left him at the venue autograph hunting while I walked off into town in search of Andertons musical instrument
shop. I decided to have another go at using my phone rather than asking a local person where the shop was, and incredibly it led me straight to the front door. I hadn't been to Andertons for ages, it's always been a good shop and has a very impressive amount of equipment of all types - I managed to heroically restrain myself with the credit card, although the fact that none of the many assistants took any notice of me even when I went up to the counter to ask one of them about something that had caught my eye may well have contributed to my restraint.
I've always been a big fan of The Godfathers since seeing them back in the 1980s. Tonight they played a fair few songs from back then as well as showcasing some material from their new 'Jukebox Fury' album, and sounded good although 'If I Only Had Time' went a bit wrong in the middle and there were a few odd moments here and there which prompted anxious glances between band members. It was good to see my old mate Dave on drums (he's in The Sex Pistols Experience who I've depped with on several occasions) and the band certainly went down well so perhaps it was just me. 
What can be said about The Stranglers that hasn't already been said any number of times? They are an absolute institution in more ways than one, with some of the most fervent followers that you'll ever encounter (from what I can gather the band often recognise many of the people in the front row at a lot of their shows) and a back catalogue packed with classics. I last saw them a couple of years ago - they sounded good then and they sounded good last night too, but I have a feeling that they normally do. A fine evening all round.

Right - time for some more Ruts D.C. gigs...

Thursday, March 07, 2013

'I may be right, I may be wrong, but I bet you're gonna miss me when I'm gone...'

Wilko Johnson played one of his 'farewell shows' at Koko in Camden last night. All things being equal - and of course, they very rarely are - it'll be the last-but-one time that I see him perform. A sad occasion? In many ways yes (obviously!) but in other ways no - after all, how could it be a sad occasion when there were so many smiling faces in the room?

Support came from Eight Rounds Rapid who feature Wilko's son Simon on guitar. As they started their set they looked a bit overawed by things - maybe it was the venue, more likely the weight of expectation and the feeling that they knew that most of the audience was probably thinking something along the lines of 'Oooo doesn't he look like his Dad when he's playing?' (Incidentally a lot of them may have also found themselves thinking 'Oooo that singer looks a bit like Lee Brilleaux' at the same time...) Simon plays a Fender Telecaster, chopping out chords without the aid of a plectrum - I hope the inevitable comparisons to his Dad don't cloud the fact that they're a very good band in their own right, although Simon has got to get the hang of wrapping his guitar cable around the guitar strap so that it doesn't get pulled out if he inadvertently treads on it. Definitely a band to look out for.

In the interval 'Meaty, Beaty Big And Bouncy' by The Who (coincidentally it's the first album that I ever bought with my own money) played over the P.A. as the venue filled up and the atmosphere became more charged. As each song ended the cries for 'WILKO!' got louder - until just on 9 o'clock when The Who gave way to The Small Faces and 3 familiar figures dressed all in black walked out onto the stage to a welcome quite unlike any that I've previously heard at one of their shows. For the next hour-and-a-half they gave a performance that it's frankly impossible for me to be objective about. Recently Wilko has spoken about how his diagnosis of terminal cancer left him feeling 'vividly alive' - well that's exactly how the music sounded last night. Vividly alive. What an amazing turn of phrase that is. Vividly alive. As he careered across the stage during the solo in 'Everybody's Carrying A Gun' I smiled as I would guess that I always do when he starts the first solo of the evening, and then felt a strange shudder as my eyes started to water. Happiness mixed with sadness. Smiling and crying at the same time. Vividly alive. 
My Dad once told me that his Dad, my Grandad who died over 10 years before I was born, used to often say 'nothing good lasts forever', then follow it a few seconds later with 'nothing bad lasts forever either'. He'd seen enough in two World Wars to know what he was talking about. I thought of him last night, a man that I could sadly never meet but whose words suddenly seemed to sum up the moment only too well. Wilko's shows have always been occasions to savour - well, they have been for me anyway - and while last night was no exception it was impossible to ignore just why there were so many people in the sold out venue, all of whom seemed to be hanging on to every second for as long as they possibly could. Well, I certainly was. Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe matched him move for move and note for note, Dr. Feelgood classics collided with solo material, Alison Moyet joined in for encores of 'I Don't Mind' and 'All Through The City' - but this was Wilko's night, as all the remaining shows will be Wilko's night. But it was our night too. And that's alright. As he wrestled manfully with a broken string that all-but-scuppered 'Bye Bye Johnny' (and oh what a poignant song choice, given that Wilko's real name is John Wilkinson) I couldn't help but notice that he had a huge grin on his face, probably the biggest that I'd ever seen him have, at least until the end of the final blistering encore of 'Twenty Yards Behind' was met with a reaction that's among the most genuinely heartfelt that I've ever heard from an audience. The house lights came up to reveal more smiles than I've seen in one place in a long time. I hope that there was one on Wilko's face too. There was certainly one on mine. Vividly alive indeed.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Boys (and girls) will be boys...

Well I didn't play any shows myself last weekend (or at least I wasn't intending to...) but I did see a couple of bands :-

Friday night at The Crown and Treaty in Uxbridge and a young band called Girl In the Garden take to the stage. I'd seen a poster for them in the venue the previous weekend and Sam had said that he'd seen them and they were good so Pete, him and myself decided to go along. Sam was correct, they were good, very tight and well-rehearsed - something that we all agreed we were not even close to being at their age! I was a bit disappointed when they played a few cover versions as their own material was very good but I suspect it was to allow them to play in places like this where a lot of the audience want to hear familiar material. They reminded me a bit of The Arctic Monkeys (no bad thing) although I must say that overall I was very struck by what good players they all are - I suppose that in these days of guitar institutes and online tuition everybody is a virtuoso now. Is it just me or does it make them sound a bit, for want of a better term, grown up? It'll be interesting to see where they go next. 

Rockstock at The Halfway House in Barnes couldn't have been more different than the previous night's band. They feature the ever-excellent Pete Parks on guitar, Andy Heart on bass and vocals and the brilliantly-named Ivan Hoe (you don't know how much I hope that's his real name!) on drums and they offer what I guess could best be called 'classic rock covers'. Unlike Girl In The Garden this wasn't exactly a slick performance, being basically Pete and Ivan having a go at whichever song Andy called up. Well either that or the rehearsal studio was closed... that said they attempted some very ambitious material (as I was to discover!) and they mostly pulled it off, albeit with the odd wrong turn here and there. In the interval Pete asked me if I fancied doing a couple of numbers with them - somehow I found myself attempting 'Pinball Wizard' and (gulp!) 'Stairway To Heaven' (whatever happened to a bit of 12 bar rock 'n'roll eh lads?!?) and all things considered I didn't make too bad a job of them, although as usual I wouldn't have mentioned it here if it had...

Time for the first studio rehearsal (as opposed to getting together around one of our houses) for Back To Zero, at Soundlab Studios in Loughton. In the course of the session we looked at seven songs including both sides of their 1979 single 'Your Side Of Heaven' / 'Back To Back', and without wishing to sound too big headed they all sounded pretty good to me. It certainly sounded good for our first time in a studio together, although I guess that proves the worth of our earlier meetings. There's still a lot of work to do before our gigs in May but talking to Andy and Sam in the pub afterwards (Squirrel sadly couldn't stick around) we all agreed that this is a band that we're all getting really excited about. Excellent!

The Friday just gone (March 1st in case you're getting confused - I know I am!) saw Tropic At Ruislip invaded by punk rockers (mostly middle-aged punk rockers, but punk rockers nonetheless) for an evening with The Pistols and The Ramonas. I'd been looking forward to seeing The Ramonas for a while as I'd heard good things about them, and I must say that they didn't disappoint. I suppose an all girl Ramones tribute band is only ever going to be a bit of a one line gag - but it's a good gag, and the girls do a fine job of emulating Da Bruddas, even if the shouts of 'One-Two-Three-Four!' are in a rather higher pitch than I remember them. And The Pistols were great too - it's always interesting to see a band that I've recently depped in, and the excellent Steve Tones was in fine form throughout as were the rest of the band. Paul / Rotten did however break rule number 1 in the live music performance handbook when he decided to take the mickey out of Phil the soundman - I suppose Phil could have chosen to retaliate with a wall of feedback so the resulting silence from Paul's microphone was probably the best option, at least from the audience point of view. It was great to see plenty of people at the gig too - a fine night all round.

Saturday night I depped in The Atlantic Soul Machine at Patrick's Bar in Crystal Palace. I played with the band on Christmas Eve which must have gone well since they asked me back (!) and although there wasn't chance to get together for a rehearsal this time the show was if anything better than my first outing with them. We were joined by John O'Leary for a version of Howlin' Wolf's 'Who's Been Talkin'' ('It's on the 'Rocking Chair' album' said John cheerily, which only added to the confusion of the band members that hadn't heard the song) and started the second set with the previously unrehearsed 'Ooga-Boo-Ga-Loo' by The Jazz Crusaders (no,I'd not heard it before either) both of which could have gone horribly wrong but thankfully sounded good. There was much dancing and merriment from the enthusiastic audience, and everyone seemed to be happy with the show which is always a relief from my point of view as a sub-sti-tute. And it was good to see Pete Feenstra again too - he remains as tireless as ever in his promoting of live music in London, which can only be a good thing for all concerned. 

And talking of seeing bands that I've recently depped in, last night I saw The Good Old Boys at The Brushwood Inn (it'll always be The Turks Head to me!) in Hillingdon. Bill's depping for Nick on bass but other than that it was The A-Team of Alan on vocals, Pete and Simon on guitars and Hud on drums; with an early start in prospect I got there around 7.40 pm to find them already into their first set which sounded good if a bit loud for the room. (God I must be getting old!) Add to that the fact that they were mostly playing to lads who had been there all afternoon for the Arsenal vs. Chelsea match and so weren't too interested in the music and you've got the recipe for a somewhat patchy first set. Things improved considerably in the second half not least because more of the band's followers had arrived by then, and by the last few songs it was definitely a case of 'all's well that end's well' - at least it was until the aforementioned lads decided to get a bit too boisterous with each other and a small set-to ensued. It's always a shame when that happens, and it's definitely a shame when there's a band on as it might put people off from supporting live music at the pub in the future. Let's hope not, as the pub is only just starting to put groups on and the area could definitely do with a venue.

Right - this week sees Ruts D.C. play in Newport and Bristol, Wilko Johnson's farewell gigs and another Back To Zero rehearsal. A good few days in prospect then...