Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Waiting for the man

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Be seeing you

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

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

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

God bless you Gypie - and thanks for everything.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Flight of the rat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

He does it right

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

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

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Purple patches, purple prose, purple passages...

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 04, 2013

I should Koko...

Wilko Johnson was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer at the start of this year, and played a series of 'farewell' shows back in March. Incredibly he has defied all the odds and is still gigging; he and his band (Norman Watt-Roy on bass and Dylan Howe on drums) are playing Koko in Camden Town on Sunday 13th and Monday 14th October and I'm very - make that very - pleased to say that Ruts D.C. are supporting on the second show. Oh yes! Also on the bill with us are the excellent Eight Rounds Rapid, and they're lining up alongside The 45s on the Sunday night. These should be the most extraordinary events, and since Wilko is probably the only guitarist that I've seen play live more often than I saw Paul Fox I can't tell how much it means to me to be playing Paul's riffs on the same bill as the mighty Mr. Johnson...

And here is the story courtesy of the always-excellent Louder Than War website and, er, me!

And while we're in the commercial zone, Ruts D.C. are also playing at The Exchange in Bristol next Friday 18th October, and it's the 6th Annual Paul Fox Social Club / Tribute Night on Saturday 19th October at Wealdstone Football Club (which is of course the home of Tropic At Ruislip). Headline band The Members feature Rat Scabies on drums, and with several other acts on the bill it should be a good night all round. I'm intending to attend so if you're going then I'll see you there.