Monday, May 27, 2013


I got up early on Wednesday morning. Well, I was up before 6.30, which I think is early although I suppose for some people it's not that early at all. I'd decided to go to the 'David Bowie Is' exhibition at The Victoria And Albert Museum in London - research had revealed that although all the advance tickets had been sold it was possible to buy a ticket on the day if you got there at 10am and queued up. I picked Wednesday as I was working in the shop on all the other days last week and I wanted to go before it got to the school summer holidays. Anyway as I stumbled around half awake (or half asleep, depending on your point of view) I turned my computer on the check how the tube trains were running and was greeted with the very sad news that ex-Spiders From Mars bassist Trevor Bolder had died. He played on what for many are some of Bowie's greatest ever recordings - I'd go so far as to say that they're some of the finest rock records of all time. A few hours later at the exhibition I saw that amazing live-on-'Top Of The Pops' version of 'The Jean Jenie' that was rediscovered a couple of years ago - Bowie, Bolder, Mick Ronson and Woody Woodmansey frozen in time wearing clothes that still look futuristic now and playing music that literally changed a generation. Fantastic stuff, as is the rest of the exhibition which I for one cannot recommend highly enough. Rare footage, handwritten lyrics, extraordinary costumes, photographs, memorabilia and more - it was so good I'm considering going again. If you're wondering about attending then make the effort - it really is worth it!

This weekend's two Upper Cut shows both got off to bad starts, but both ended up being good shows. I guess this is better than them starting well but ending badly? Saturday saw our first visit to The Kings Arms in Harefield this year - this is generally a good gig for us and as I say this turned out to be the case this time although it wasn't without it's problems. If you were to look down upon the pub it's probably best described as 'U-shaped' - the stage is along one side of the U (if you see what I mean) and is set back into the wall. It's also not very big - there only room for Roger's drums (and indeed Roger himself) and mine and Terry's amplifiers, with me and the two Terrys down on the floor in front of the drums along with the P.A. system. This means that (a) it's all but impossible for Roger to hear the vocals, (b) it's hard for me and Terry to get to our amplifiers if they need adjusting, (c) because the room is long and thin if people dance then you stand a fair chance of getting a microphone in the face and (d) there probably is a (d) but it's time that I stopped moaning. Our first set sounded rough with more than a few mistakes from the band - Roger described it as feeling as though he was playing in a cupboard and that he hadn't heard a single word that Terry had sung - but the second sounded better (probably because people had moved around to watch the band and so had soaked up some of the sound) and our performance improved immeasurably with much merriment and encores a-plenty. And yesterday's show in Colnbrook at Ye Olde George Inn also got off to a shaky start as the power went off a few seconds into our first number 'How Come'. The barman came over with an extension cable and the words 'we've had a few problems with those sockets' - with the power restored we carried on more-or-less where we'd left off the night before and played well from then on in. As we were doing three sets we were able to include a few songs that don't get aired too often which resulted in the odd mad moment here and there but generally sounded good, and it was nice to be able to try a few different things. At the end a chap came over and asked how much money we'd want to play for another hour - now that's something that doesn't happen too often! We didn't do it of course - 'leave them wanting more' as someone once said...

There's just time to mention that Louder Then War have reviewed Ruts D.C.'s new album and our London and Bearded Theory shows - all good stuff (I wouldn't be mentioning them here if they weren't!) although I must admit that it's still a bit weird to read my name in connection with the band - I wonder if I'll ever get used to it? And I'm making another appearance in the big headphones on Music Scene Investigation this coming Sunday, which always a good thing to do. Excellent!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Who needs a setlist anyway?

As the current burst of Ruts D.C. activity comes to an end (shame! - although there are things in the pipeline for later this year...) it's time for my first corporate show for some time, and it's also my first show with Utter Madness since the New Year's Eve-before-last's extravaganza in Cardiff. This one took place on Wednesday night at The Metropole Hotel in Birmingham which is part of The N.E.C. complex; this gave me chance to boyishly (some might say 'childishly') tell anyone that would listen that I was 'playing at The N.E.C.' - well, I was, sort of... anyway according to my wristband (they wouldn't let me into the gig without it) we were playing at the 'Security & Fire Installer Live Party!' which I think you'll agree is an interesting idea for a social gathering. Also on the bill were Joe Stilgoe (his Dad is Richard Stilgoe) The RPJ Band (a.k.a. The Rick Parfitt Junior Band - the lead singer's Dad is, you've guessed it, Rick Parfitt from Status Quo) and The It Girls (sorry, I don't know if any of their Dads are famous - maybe I should have asked?) and we were due to play an hour set in the middle of the evening. Almost immediately
The ever-diminishing
Utter Madness setlist,
and a pint of lager.
that was cut to 50 minutes, and by the time we went on at a quarter to nine we were only obliged to play a 40 minute show. Given that we hadn't played together for nearly a year-and-a-half that was probably not a bad thing; add in the fact that surrogate Suggs Tony hurt his back during our 4th song and it becomes something of a blessing. We managed to run through a few songs in the soundcheck - you've guessed it, they were all left out as the set got cut down - which helped us all get back into it, although sadly Jon the bass was absent due to work commitments. (He arrived at 7pm just as food was being served - good timing!) Overall our set went well enough, although as so often happens at these events most people in the hall hardly took a blind bit of notice of us. Oh well. And from what I saw of the other acts on the bill more-or-less the same fate befell them, although that said The It Girls somewhat inevitably got a bit more attention, at least for the first few minutes of their first appearance; I rather suspect that most of the observers lost interest when they realised that they were dancers and not strippers. It was that kind of evening.

It was a very different kind of evening on Friday when Ruts D.C. played at The Globe in Cardiff. As I got into the bus to leave Segs told me that Molara had a bad throat and so wasn't doing this show and was very unlikely to be with us the next night - we spent a fair bit of the journey talking through the set and working out what changes we might be obliged to make. The main sticking discussion concerned 'Jah War' - she sings the song in the set (and she does a very fine job as this clip shows) and after wondering which one of us might be up to the job (I rather wildly said that I'd have a go - fortunately I don't think anybody took me too seriously!) we decided to drop the song and replace it with 'Generations', a song that Segs recorded with Joe Strummer and Rat Scabies for a benefit album and one that we played as an encore at last weekend's Camden show. We also elected to drop the second section of 'One Step' which has evolved into 'Warning' which again Molara sings (and this clip once again shows how well she sings it - not much chance of me getting near to that!) Other than that there weren't too many changes to make other than for your humble narrator to join in on the choruses a bit more than usual...
We arrived at the venue getting on for an hour late - not an ideal situation but unavoidable due to heavy traffic. There were three other bands on the bill so we soundchecked as quickly as we could to give them time to set up. A good sized crowd was expected and the venue was filling up by the time The Phucks (nice name!?!) took to the stage. They were an agreeably noisy bunch that didn't take themselves too seriously, whereas Anonamus Iconaclass were an altogether subtler proposition who reminded me a bit of early Dire Straits (i.e. when they were good... no really they were... well, quite good anyway!) Main support band The Sporadics began their set by describing themselves as delivering 'a bit of ska, a bit of punk, a bit of politics' which turned out to be a very accurate description. They were also very good.
!0.45pm and it's our turn. The place is packed and anticipation is high - I'd met Ziggy and John of Death Or Glory Promotions (they put on our Newport and Bristol shows back in March) before the show, both of whom had said that a lot of people were looking forward to seeing us. They weren't wrong as the place went crazy from the first song. It was interesting how Molara's absence seemed to change the dynamic of the band - it all felt a lot rockier, even a bit more 'laddish' than it normally does. That said we played well, and  although we certainly missed her vocals on many occasions the show caused an extraordinary reaction from the audience, with stage diving, crowd surfing and more - I could have done without getting covered in beer by an over-exuberant chap down the front but to be honest the show was so enjoyable that it didn't really bother me too much. As I say, a very different show to the one on Wednesday.
After the show it was back to the hotel where the bar was still open and the mood was good, right up until the moment that Mark the driver said something like 'see you at nine in the morning' - any chance of oversleeping was removed when the smoke alarm went off before 8 o'clock; I was sharing the room was Seamus and we assumed that only the one in our room went off but it seems that it happened to everybody else too. Lack of traffic meant we got to The Bearded Theory Festival in Derbyshire around 40 minutes ahead of our projected 1pm arrival time - we had to get there early to get passes and wristbands - which I guess is better than getting there 40 minutes late, although I must admit I could have done with the extra sleep. (I must have been drifting in and out of consciousness when I heard Segs suggest that there should be a Goth catering company called Dark Satanic Meals...) In no time at all food passes are being handed out (vegetarian lasagne - oh yes!) and Citizen Fish are taking to the stage - I'd like to have seen more of their set but missed most of it as we were loading our equipment in but what I did see was very good indeed. Meanwhile we're allocated
Segs contemplates his options -
'Mints? Cashew nuts? Tortillas
and Salsa dip? Or the fridge
full of beer that's not in the picture?'
our dressing room (maybe that should be 'dressing portacabin') where the rider provided much amusement - there may not have been much food but there certainly was a large amount of alcohol... we were playing a 45 minutes set, and since we'd played for an hour-and-a-half the night before we were able to leave out the 'Molara songs' and still have more than enough material for the show. I must say that I felt that our set went by in no time; it included an unusual version of 'Staring At The Rude Boys' which completely omitted the second verse and guitar solo - when I asked him afterwards Segs said that he'd simply forgotten to sing it! Overall it was a good show, not quite as euphoric as the night before but one that still had the audience calling for an encore that lack of time sadly didn't allow. Still it was a good show to finish this run of gigs with - we now haven't got anything booked until The Rebellion Festival in August although hopefully something will come in before then. 

And yesterday evening I went to the open mic / jam session at The Crown and Treaty in Uxbridge where I played bass on 'Suffragette City' and 'Garageland' with old mates Grant and Steve, than went on to The Crown in Cowley for their acoustic session. It's strange - not long ago I'd never attended such gatherings but now I find them quite enjoyable. That said they do have more than a few odd moments - I really must write a blog piece about them sometime...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

'...but it helps...'

I've been listening to 'Aladdin Sane' by David Bowie a fair bit lately (well to be pedantic I've been playing it in the background while I've been doing other things) and I'd all but forgotten what a great album it is. To my ears there's not a bad track on it, Mick Ronson is in 'guitar god mode' throughout and the songs are some of Bowie's best - mighty stuff. Track one side two (in old money) is 'Time' - it caught my ear a couple of minutes ago as I reflected on how busy the last week has been and how little time I have to do things like write a blog piece at the moment. So here is an edited (sometimes very edited) version of the highs and lows of life in mad-guitar-World since last we spoke, taken from scribbly notes made along the way and some rather blurred memories. Maybe one day I'll get chance to write the 'full' version, but in the meantime...


With a London gig looming on Friday our heroes return to The Music Complex in Deptford for a session that should have seen us joined by Tenor Fly and Rob from The Alabama 3, both of whom will be appearing with us as special guests at the show, and both of whom had called to say that they couldn't make it before we'd even started playing. Hmm... a chance setting of 'slapback echo' on the P.A. system had Segs singing in a spoof rockabilly manner - we then spent much of our time playing attempting to play our songs in said style before adjourning to The Little Crown and deciding to form a group called Rockabilly Solution. No, really, that was what happened. Even I couldn't make that up.


After a day at Balcony Shirts (yes, I'm still working there in between all this other stuff) I should really have gone home and got an early night in preparation for the afore-mentioned London show. Instead I went to The 100 Club. I really must try to look after myself a bit better don't you think?

T.V. Smith - analysis is futile. Simply brilliant
Interval - meet up with T.V. and Gaye, Tara and Andy from The Duel, various Phobics, my mate Tom, Coppo and Lynda, arch Price fan Romford Dave and more. Excellent.
The U.K. Subs - analysis is futile. A punk rock institution.
After the show - meet up with all of the above again and introduce myself to U.K. Subs guitar hero Jet who turns out to be a very nice chap. Excellent.


Over 200 tickets sold and a good walk up is expected for our 'Rhythm Collision Volume 2' launch gig - no pressure then. I'd not played at The Underworld before - great support sets from Electric River and Dirty Revolution before a potentially classic Ruts D.C. show is interrupted when Molara gets hit in the face by a plastic glass thrown from the crowd. (Yeah I know the term 'plastic glass' makes no sense but you know what I mean I think.) Aside from that the show goes brilliantly well and my old mate Big Andy copes manfully with utter chaos on the merchandise stall after the show. I shake hands with the entire audience (well, it felt as though I did) and ponder why anybody would buy an overpriced watered-down drink and then throw it or the empty (plastic) glass that it came in at a band that they've paid to see and therefore presumably enjoy listening to. Fail to find a satisfactory answer so go across the road to The Mango Room where Segs is DJing. When we got there he was at the bar - he was still there when we left...

And here's 'Mirror Smashed' from the show - even though I say so myself, we played well!

Seamus after breakfast
 outside the venue -
'nice friendly atmosphere'...

Arrive at The Box to be told that all but one of our rooms at the adjoining hotel were 'trashed last night' (their words not mine) and so most of us were now staying at The Ramada Encore but would be coming back for breakfast in the morning. Strange but true. Soundcheck a bit fraught due to a lack of local crew (cue 'no crew in Crewe' gags) and a lack of microphones which resulted in a bit of rearranging of various things already on stage (we were supporting Spear Of Destiny) and meaning that I ended up not having a vocal mic. There's a fully signed 'Live At Leeds' album above the sound desk - if I had one of them then I'm not sure that I'd let it out of the house. Our show goes well until a rather peculiar chap starts shouting abuse and making various well-known gestures at Seamus from the front of the crowd. He copes well but once again a potentially excellent show gets a bit soured. The guy finds him in the bar afterwards and continues winding Seamus up until he loses his temper and slaps him. A scuffle ensues - where are venue security when you need them? We get back to the van to discover that we've got a flat battery. Bugger.

And here are the last two songs from our set - and why not?


We eventually got a jump start from one of the venue's security men (I decided not to ask him where he'd been earlier!) and got to the hotel to find the bar still open. Good. Buy some drinks and meet some lads who were at the show and who loved our performance. One of them spots my Dr. Feelgood badge and announces that he's a big Wilko Johnson fan - much jollity ensues, as eventually does nowhere near enough sleep. We make it back to the venue for half past nine - breakfast there has previously been described as 'legendary' by several sources and has since been described by some other less complimentary words by various band members. My namby-pamby poncy vegetarian egg on toast is fine-ish. Spend much of the journey South drifting in and out of consciousness before arriving home with an hour to spare before leaving for a 5pm Upper Cut gig at The Olde George in Colnbrook. Yes, I thought it was a bit if an odd time for a gig too. Play a rousing (if slightly jet-lagged from my point of view) performance to an enthusiastic audience who include a man who spends a fair bit of our set singing along whilst using a chair leg as a microphone. As the leg is still attached to the chair this is a somewhat dangerous concept... get home sometime after 8 o'clock, have a sandwich and think that maybe I should have an early-ish night, but instead go to The Load Of Hay to meet East for a drink. Or two. Or three. What was that about 'looking after myself'?


After a busy day in Balcony Shirts I met John 'Football Factory' King at Chalk Farm tube station before going at The Enterprise where I saw Romford Dave (who'd also been at the Ruts D.C. gig on Friday - 'we can't go on meeting like this' etc etc) and spent £3 on a portion of chips and quite a bit more on two drinks. No, I don't know why either. Got to The Fiddlers Elbow, said hello to Lee from Infa Riot and then realised that I was in a room with an almost endless amount of very scary-looking skinheads. As I went to the bar to get some drinks (obviously!) I heard the words 'Is that a Tootal?' I turned to see a giant man pointing at my scarf; I then said the words 'yes it is' in a voice that sounded to me to be at least two octaves higher than normal. 'Looks good mate' said he cheerily. Meanwhile, in the background, an Oi! band was playing...

Angry Agenda - aptly named as they all seemed to be very annoyed about something. Very good though.
Control - initially had trouble getting the bass guitar working. Got there in the end. Also very good.
The Old Firm Casuals - roared through a blazing hour of melodic anthems. Great stuff.

Considered staying for another drink with John and Lee after the show as they were hoping to get a word with Lars but I was flagging (perhaps unsurprisingly!) a bit and so decided to leave after the band finished so as not to be worrying about missing the last train. Woke up as my train pulled in to Pinner station -  in my delirium I'd got on the wrong train and now had to get back to Harrow-On-The-Hill in time to catch the last Uxbridge train. Only just made it - but at least I made it. I'm bloomin' tired now though...

...and I expect I'll be bloomin' tired this coming weekend too, when Ruts D.C. play at The Globe in Cardiff on Friday evening and The Bearded Theory Festival in Derbyshire at 3.30pm on Saturday. Can't wait!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

'You don't have to be mad to work here...'

Well that's another busy few days been and gone - it all gets a lot quieter in a few weeks time which I don't mind admitting that I'm not looking forward to. In the meantime...

Thursday then, and time at last for Back To Zero to take to the stage for the first time in getting on for 33 1/3 years. You couldn't make that up could you? 'It feels like we've been rehearsing for ages' said Squirrel a few minutes before the show was due to start, 'and yet I'm not sure that it's been enough'. I knew what he meant but decided to tell myself that it was all going to be brilliant - which I'm pleased to say that was how it all turned out to be, but more about that in a minute. 
Your humble narrator
in mod mode.
I must buy myself
a better shirt!
I arrived at The Fiddlers Elbow in Camden around 6.30pm just as Eat This were soundchecking with 'Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand' - always nice to hear a Who track being played! The evening (which also featured The Duel and The Phobics) was to promote the recently released 'See You On The Other Side' Paul Fox tribute CD, with all money raised going to The Michael Sobell Hospice where Paul was cared for towards the end of his life. As you might expect on an evening such as this there were more than a few familiar faces in the building - punk promotess Sarah Pink and John 'Football Factory' King among them - as well as a fair-sized crowd, all of whom saw excellent sets from all the bands. The Phobics sounded tight and powerful as did The Duel (who finished with a fine version of 'Babylon's Burning') and although I missed a bit of Eat This due to packing gear away and getting changed what I did hear sounded good to me. I described the Back To Zero set to Andy the drummer as 'a loosener' - his comment that he considered it to be 'a strengther' probably gives a better view of the show, which saw Sam coming into his own as a guitarist / frontman and the rest of the band (Stuart on keyboards, Squirrel on bass and your humble narrator on the electric guitar) matching him moment for moment. The first show by a band is always an odd one - it's often a mixture of 'let's get this one out of the way' and 'right, we've done the rehearsals now let us get at 'em!' which certainly describes how this one felt for me. One thing we all agreed on was that it was a good start but the best is yet to come - and that wasn't a bad feeling to have.

And here are a fine set of BTZ photos taken by Rhiannon at the show, while Joe's Gig Vids has a song from each of the bands ...

On Friday Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks returned to The Swan in Iver. A good-sized audience saw a good-sounding show - Bob did a good job depping for Dave on drums, Pete joined us on guitar for a good few numbers and some very good looking young ladies had a good time dancing, particularly in our second set. Hmmm... some nights are just 'good' aren't they? This was one one of them!

And so to Saturday and The Mods Mayday 2013 in Cambridge. The evening also featured Squire and The Killermeters and took place at The Ida Darwin Social Club (in the grounds of the Ida Darwin Hospital, which itself is part of The Fulbourn Hospital a.k.a. The County Pauper Lunatic Asylum For Cambridgeshire, The Isle Of Ely And The Borough Of Cambridge - oh yes!) which for the evening became The Alley Club. Paul the promoter distinguished himself immediately by bringing out cases of lager and promising imminent pizza and chips (top man!) and with Squire arriving later The Killermeters were first to soundcheck with us close behind. Craig was joining us on vocals for a few songs (he was one of the band's singers first time around) and although we were initially too loud on stage (whoever heard of an electric guitar being too loud?!?) we got things sounding good in the end. Or did we? Our first number was dogged by feedback which threatened to all-but-scupper the song - we got through it and I for one found the burst of audience applause at the end something of a relief. From there on in things improved dramatically, with our version of 'Making Time' by The Creation upping the ante and the last song 'Your Side Of Heaven' bringing the proverbial house down. A quick encore of 'Land Of A Thousand Dances' and it was all over - but it turned out to be a great show after a shaky start. Well - that's better
Back To Zero at Mods Mayday Cambridge 2013 -
Leigh, Sam, Andy, Squirrel and Stuart
than a shaky show after a great start... back at the bar a very nice chap called Bryan comes across and says that he saw Ruts D.C. the previous weekend in Minehead and thought we were great. Good man! A young lady comes over with a copy of the BTZ single and asks me to sign it, she looks disappointed when I tell her that I wasn't in the band then but she cheers up when I direct her to Sam and Andy. In the meantime The Killermeters are playing a fine set of mod-pop songs (once again good to hear a Who song or two) and I see Mike Herbage from Department S for the first time since I depped on bass with them last year - I also met Mark the bass player for the first time at our Camden show. 'We should get a gig with the two bands shouldn't we?' is his cheery suggestion - well, I'm not going to tell him that he's wrong... by now Squire are on and 'Walking Down The Kings Road' sounds as good as I remember it sounding all those years ago. We all reflect on what a great night it's been - and it has, even with a 'we are the mods' chant or two. Well - they are!

And here is 'Back To Back', our second song from the show...

Sunday's duo show with Big Al Reed at The Coy Carp in Harefield could easily have been something of an anti-climax after that but I'm pleased (and not a little surprised!) to say that it wasn't. It was the first live music evening at the pub - always good to see another place trying to put a band or a duo on - although I remember going to The Mystery Blues Club to see bands like The Hamsters play Sunday lunchtime shows there back in the 1980s. For this show we were joined by Pete for a fair bit of the evening (as well as joining us on Friday he also depped for me with the band on Saturday evening while I was off modding around) and after a quiet start the second set saw much dancing and merriment all round with the promise of a return show, maybe with the whole band. A successful evening's work - and last night I made another visit to The Three Wishes in Edgware for their jam night. Big Al, Pete and myself played a couple of songs with the houseband before the venue bought out the sandwiches to honour Al's birthday this week. All good stuff, although I don't half feel tired now...

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Games for May

Commercial time - Ruts D.C. play The Underworld in Camden Town next Friday 10th May with Dirty Revolution and Electric River - it's the official launch of the new album 'Rhythm Collision Volume 2' (incidentally we're due on stage at 8.30pm as there's a 10.15pm curfew) and promises to be a night to remember. We're then special guests of Spear Of Destiny at The Box in Crewe (it's their 'Westworld' event) on Saturday and the following Friday 17th we play The Globe in Cardiff before a 3.30pm slot at The Bearded Theory Festival in Derbyshire the next day.