Tuesday, May 27, 2014

From Bristol to Brixton and beyond

It was around half past eight yesterday evening and I was walking towards Brixton Underground Station. As I rummaged in my pocket for my Oyster Card I thought to myself 'hmmm - I've just left Segs with one of the biggest dope smugglers the World has ever seen, someone who used to work for The Kray Twins, and that mad bloke out of The Happy Mondays. What could possibly go wrong?...' 

This frankly astonishing thought came at the end of a splendid three days for Ruts D. C., beginning with a set at VegFest in Bristol on Saturday night. The show went well until about halfway through our set when, as the old saying goes, the heavens opened - I must admit that I didn't realise how heavily it was raining until I saw one of the sound men turning over various plug boards (including, rather worryingly, the one that my effect pedals were plugged into) over, presumably in an attempt to lessen the chance of water getting into them. I have feeling things were possibly a little more dangerous that I thought at the time... before us Goldblade had played a typically boisterous set with John Robb as crazy as ever out front; after us Peter Hook And The Light took the place by storm with a brilliant show that particularly impressed Segs, to such an extent that he even attempted to shake Hooky's hand from in the photographers pit mid-song. John Robb also appeared alongside us the next night at Strummercamp in Cheadle Hulme, this time as lead singer and bass player in The Membranes. I think I last saw them around 30 years ago, and I'm pleased to say that nothing much has changed in the interim period with them sounding every bit as spiky as I remember them sounding first time around. Our show began with a burst of P.A. system feedback that was so severe that we had to stop our first song so that it could be sorted out. From there on in however it was a great gig - we'd decided to play 'Generations' (a song that Segs wrote with Joe Strummer and Rat Scabies) and since Seamus Beaghen was going to be there (he was on later with Lee Thompson and used to play with us) we hoped that he would join us for that and a few other songs, but sadly he was delayed and couldn't make it which was a real shame - still it was great to see him again. We'd also added the old Ruts track 'S.U.S.' to the set all weekend which was great to play and went down really well so hopefully that'll stay in the show for the next batch of shows. We went down well enough that we could have played an encore but with things running late we thought it was better that we didn't and so made way for Lee Thompson's Ska Orchestra who finished off proceedings in fine style. And we made it to Jamm in Brixton yesterday afternoon (while he was queueing in a motorway service station toilet Segs was stopped by someone with the words 'this is a strange place to meet a bass legend'. I suppose it was if you think about it!) in time to make a 'surprise' appearance (well it certainly was a surprise to us as we didn't know that we were definitely appearing until two days before!) at the 'Best In Brixton' charity event. After checking in it was time for a drink - we arrived back from The Crown And Anchor (well, we had a set list to write!) just as Howard Marks was presenting extracts from his 'Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe' one man show, and from what I saw I wish I'd seen the whole thing. As we were about to go onstage a chap came up to me and asked 'are these The Ruts who did 'Babylon's Burning' and all that?' I told him that, yes, some of them are... Tenor Fly joined us for 'Mighty Soldier', 'S.U.S.' seemed even more powerful than on the previous two evenings (I really hope that it stays in the set!) and the final adrenalin rush of 'Society' bought the proverbial house down. A great show, after which I met the afore-mentioned Mr. Marks, Freddie Foreman (or 'Brown Bread Fred' as he was known back in the day. Oo-er!) and Bez, who was DJ-ing later in the evening. Sometimes I can hardly believe what I type here.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering - Segs is fine, although he didn't get to bed until gone 9 o'clock this morning. I don't suppose that I would have either...

Monday, May 19, 2014

Back in the garage - sonically speaking

This is Pete Townshend's 69th birthday - with rumours of a new Who album and tour this is definitely something to celebrate, as is the 20th anniversary edition of 'Definitely Maybe' by Oasis which is released today. They're still a band that split the jury (click here to read what a couple of my, er, 'professional acquaintances' think of them, and to hear my thoughts on what turned out to be one of their last gigs - so far...) but love 'em or hate 'em you still can't ignore them. For what my opinion is worth theirs is one of the great debut albums of all time, and if I ever write a song that's half as good as 'Slide Away' then I'll be very happy indeed.

Before last weekend's Serbian adventure I managed to catch a couple of gigs in good old London Town :-

On Tuesday (May 6th if you're taking notes - incidentally if you are taking notes then why are you taking notes?!?) I got a teatime phone call from Dave Ruffy asking me if I'd like to see The Sonics at Koko that very evening. There's only one answer to that isn't there... I met up with him in Camden Town at 8.30, and by the time we'd had a drink on the venue's roof garden it was time to find a vantage point for the show. The Sonics were a band that I remember by reputation a long time before I actually heard a note from them - they were often referred to as 'prototype punk' and 'the ultimate garage band' and photos showed them to be a brooding and menacing bunch, which was more-or-less the way they were reputed to sound. Given their influence on many-a punk it was fitting that they were introduced by Glen Matlock; after a slightly strange delay as they all ambled on and leisurely picked up their respective instruments they careered into 'Cinderella' and what followed was a veritable masterclass in out-and-out rock 'n' roll. Larry Parypa's guitar sounded magnificent as he hacked out primal riffs and slashing chords (even if he himself looked a little bewildered at times!) and drummer Dusty Watson had the mighty Mr. Ruffy voicing his approval throughout, which has to be a good thing if you think about it. A cracking evening, as was the next night at The 12 Bar Club when the garage theme continued as The Fallen Leaves continued their 'first-Wednesday-of-every-month' residency. Support this time came from The Len Price 3, who I've been trying to get to see for quite some time - I've been following their movements via the always-excellent 'Retro Man' blog (which incidentally has just published this review of Captain Sensible's birthday gig - thanks Steve!) and their splendid latest album 'Nobody Knows' has rarely been my turntable lately. (Ok, it's really a CD player, but that doesn't sound as good does it?!?) I'm pleased to say that they didn't disappoint - to say that they look distinctive is something of an understatement, with their red and blue striped blazers, white shirts and black trousers combining to create a technicolour spectacle that perfectly complemented the explosive power (pop) of their material. So many great bands have emerged from the so-called Medway Scene (The Prisoners and The Milkshakes being probably the best known, but there are many others) and judging by this performance The Len Price 3 are worthy successors to all of those bands. So great was their performance that I don't mind admitting that I wasn't sure how The Fallen Leaves were going to follow them, but as always they were absolutely superb. Their next 12 Bar Club gig is on June 4th, and they're at The 100 Club with Eight Rounds Rapid and Back To Zero on Sunday 22nd June - now there's an evening I'm really looking forward too!

Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks returned to The Paddington Packet Boat in Cowley on Saturday for a show that started quietly (it was Cup Final day and as you might expect a lot of people had gone out to watch the match and then gone home early) but turned out to be ok in the end. Al asked me if I'd like to go to the jam night in Edgware tonight, but much as enjoy playing and seeing some of the people there I've made the (ahem!) momentous decision not to go - to be honest I've had enough of the snide comments and the insults, which saddens me as I say I like to go along and play. Hmmm... then again Ruts D.C. play VegFest in Bristol this Saturday followed by an appearance at Strummercamp on Sunday - I really must stop letting loud-mouthed nobodies and idiots at jam nights upset me mustn't I?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Five alive

...and as predicted last time that was indeed a very busy few days :-

I arrived at the Air Serbia check-in at Heathrow Airport about 15 minutes early for our allotted meeting time of 11.30am on Friday morning. After meeting up with Dave, Segs and Nick (Molara was on her way) and checking in Segs and myself took our instruments to outsize baggage then joined Dave and Nick to go through security. Despite taking off my watch and emptying my pockets I still managed to set the alarm off - I was eventually allowed through after removing my shoes and standing in another (presumably more elaborate?) scanner. With a while to go until we were due to leave we got some food, after which I decided to look for an iPod in the duty free shops. I somehow managed to lose mine a while back and have been looking around for a new one ever since, I suppose I always hope to find a bargain but always end up thinking something like 'well, they're the same price as on Amazon so maybe I should just buy one from there?' Mind you, then I'd have nothing to do at airports...
Our flight was full, and got off to an entertaining start as the chap doing the safety announcements clearly had a rather dry sense of humour - 'In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure an oxygen mask will magically appear in front of you. When you have stopped screaming place it over your face'... he finished with 'if you have been listening to this announcement then I wish you a good flight, if you haven't then I wish you good luck' to the amusement of those who (presumably) had been listening.
We landed at Belgrade Airport just after 5 o'clock. I'd not been to Serbia before and so was hoping to see a bit of the country during our journey to our gig; since our driver chose to take the smaller (and therefore bumpier) roads to Novi Sad rather than the motorways we saw more of the countryside than we otherwise might have. Along the way we stopped at a shop (don't ask me where it was!) where Pardon crackers and Jalen beer was purchased, to the general approval of all concerned. On arriving at The Hotel Putnick (where I'm sharing room 415 with Nick) we met Igor the promoter and dropped some of our stuff off before walking around the corner (literally!) to the venue, a large open air stage in the town square. As Dave checked the drum kit over and I was shown the Marshall JCM 900 provided for my use 'Plan 9 Channel 7' by The Damned played over the PA system - a good sign for the evening ahead.
After eating in a nearby bar I walked back out into the town square - the first band were on and thousands - literally thousands - of people had arrived to watch the show. This was going to be good. I went back to the hotel to get changed and to write out some set lists - by the time I'd done that it was time for us to get set up. As I was plugging my pedal board in Segs asked me if I had a spare guitar lead ('I don't think mine is working') which fortunately I was able to give him; after what felt like only a few minutes we were on and into 'Whatever We Do'. My amp sounded great, in fact everything sounded great, and a potentially classic show is in prospect. It certainly had the makings of that - until during 'Something That I Said' when some worrying buzzing and crackling sounds started to come from Segs's side of the stage. We start 'Mighty Soldier' and everything seems to be ok - until the bass cuts out completely - Segs fiddles with his lead (my lead!) and it comes back on, goes off again... he's given another lead but the same thing happens so it must be the jack socket on his bass. Bugger! Can anyone lend us a bass please? After what felt like ages (but what according to Nick behind the sound desk was actually no time at all) a bass guitar is found - but it's a 5-string model, and Segs has never played one before. He introduces 'Jah War' and then realises that it's got one of the most prominent bass lines in the show - 'let's play it anyway' says he with a smile, and halfway through the first verse the guitar strap comes off and he just catches the instrument before it hits the ground. Oooo! By now we're running short of time so it's straight to the last two songs of the set - 'Staring At The Rude Boys' and 'Babylon's Burning' cause a near-riot and a breathless (and at one point bass-less!) 'Society' close our show. As we walk off some of the crowd are singing 'In A Rut' - oh well, that'll have to wait until next time... as Segs stands at the side of the stage ruefully eyeing his bass he looks at me and smiles - 'you have to laugh don't you?' Yes, I suppose that you do... Dave and Segs went off to do a television interview (The Ruts played in the-then Yugoslavia back in 1980 and there was a lot of interest in their return) while I took my guitar and pedals back to our hotel before joining the others for a drink. Before long liberal application of Lowenbrau along with a plum brandy called Slivovitz have easily banished any possible negative thoughts about our performance - and why not? It really was great to be able to come over to play, and while the technical difficulties made it a difficult gigs in some ways it was also a good one as the audience's reaction proved. Well, I enjoyed it!

Saturday began with (you've guessed it!) a headache. That Slivovitz is strong stuff... I managed to get a bit of breakfast (it finished at 10 o'clock, I got there just before they started clearing it all away) before going back to the room for a shower and (you've guessed it again!) going back to sleep. I did however remember to set an alarm, and so Nick and myself were downstairs in the lobby for our midday rendezvous with Igor who thanked us warmly for coming over and playing before putting us in a taxi to take us back to the airport which this time took a more direct route. Annoyingly our aircraft then sat on the tarmac for over an hour before eventually taking off at quarter past four - no wacky announcements this time, just the rather ominous prediction of turbulence throughout our journey. This fortunately proved to be mostly unfounded, although the pilot did say that he was expecting 'a bumpy landing' as we approached Heathrow - it could have been better, but it could have been a whole lot worse! No time to worry about that now though - my cab got me home for just before 7.30 and I had to be back out an hour-and-a-half later. Oh well - I guess that's why God gave us takeaway food...
I arrived in The West End just after 10 o'clock - it was raining but the streets were still crowded, and the walk from Tottenham Court Road station to The 12 Bar Club took longer than perhaps it should have. Then again, maybe I was flagging a bit? Either way I arrived just in time to catch the last song by The Legendary Groovymen before saying hello to Chris Pope's bass player Mic who was celebrating his birthday by playing with both Pope and a new band called (wait for it!) The London Sewage Company, who feature him and Ken the drummer from Pope alongside 12 Bar Club manager Mark a.k.a Barnet on vocals and their mate Pete and your humble narrator on guitars. Mark asked me if I'd be interested in doing the show the while back, and emailed me a few of the songs he and Mic had been working on - when I heard the first song 'Bridget' start with the line 'he's in love with a cross-dressing midget' (I bet you can guess what that line rhymes with!) I got on the phone straightaway to put myself up for the job. Well, wouldn't you have? We're on later but in the meantime Chris Pope and co. played a storming set in front of a very enthusiastic audience - the band seem to sound better and better each time I see them, which admittedly has been rather a lot recently! There's a while before we're due on - the place is very full, and with a couple of other birthdays in the house it looks like we should be in for a good debut gig. We kick off with 'Night Of A Thousand Beards' (this band really does have some very, er, 'interesting' lyrics!) and I realise that although the rest of them had rehearsed together the previous day I'd only had a brief run through with them a few weeks ago. Ah well, 'in for a penny' as the old saying goes... 30-odd minutes later we all agree that our debut had gone well - after all, we did get to play 'Bridget' twice which I think you'll agree constitutes a good gig by anyone's standards.

By the time Sunday afternoon's Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks gig at Ye Olde George in Colnbrook came around I was feeling tired. Very tired. I'd got in well after 4am and hadn't managed to sleep for anywhere near long enough, and as a result I personally don't think I played too well although nobody else seemed to think that there were any problems (or if they did then they didn't tell me!) The band had played a long show the night before and as a result were all on top form so maybe I was just feeling a bit 'left behind' or something? Anyway it had been a great weekend, which I managed to all-but-ruin for myself by going to The Three Wishes in Edgware for the first time in ages - I though it might have been good fun to go to the regular Monday jam night, but as has occasionally happened at these events there was more than one unpleasant moment of spitefulness from someone who really ought to know better. While I'm not going to let this sour a memorable few days, I really must get around to writing a piece about jam nights one day... 

Monday, May 05, 2014

'If we drink we will die, and if we don't drink we will die...' (a.k.a. 'Lost In the Supermarket')

Four gigs in four days is always a good thing in my little world...

Thursday night saw a swift return to Sunningdale for Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks following our debut show at The Sunningdale Lounge a mere two weeks ago. I don't mind admitting that I wondered if this was all a bit too soon and therefore there wouldn't be too many people in attendance but I'm pleased to say that despite the rain there were plenty of people there. When I'm gigging elsewhere my good friend Pete Kerr deps for me, and we generally do shows together when we are both available - however he was working away so I found myself in the relatively-rare-these-days situation of being the 'only' guitarist (Al plays guitar on some numbers, but you know what I mean I think) which took me a few songs to get used to; still with Al on top form thing went well until 'Shakin' All Over' which went a bit wrong when Al managed to get his top E string caught under the pickup on his Gretsch causing him to go to the wrong part of the song. Still we recovered well, and a real one-off moment occurred when a young lady requested 'Brown Eyed Girl' - Al couldn't remember the words so said something like 'do you know this one Steve?' It turned out that Steve Brookes did indeed know it (albeit in the key of E rather than the more usual G) and sang it very well - I really must ask him about The Jam next time I see him... 

The next evening we found ourselves in the perhaps-unlikely setting of The Battle Of Britain Club in Uxbridge. The club is on what used to be The R.A.F. Camp (it's currently being redeveloped as a housing estate) which is also the site of The Battle Of Britain Bunker which I'm told is a very interesting place to visit. It's usually members only but when bands and / or events are on that rule is relaxed, and we played three 40 minute sets to an appreciative if somewhat small audience. With beer at well under £3 a pint I'm amazed that there weren't more people there - I'm considering joining myself!

On Saturday night The Upper Cut returned to The Halfway House in Rickmansworth for the first time since September 2011. That night my amplifier blew up (!) but this time I managed to get through the show without any problems aside from the guv'nor telling us to turn it down several times throughout the evening. We did our best but it's difficult to play the sort of music that we play at a low volume. Well, that's my excuse anyway... mind you that could be why my amp exploded! In the meantime bizarre displays of Cossack dancing took place only a couple of yards in front of us (cue 'I'll have a pint of what they've had' gags) so there were definitely a few lads that enjoyed what we did. Well, I guess they enjoyed it - perhaps it's time for a chorus or two of 'The Cossack Drinking Song'?

And yesterday The Upper Cut made a 5pm appearance in Colnbrook at Ye Olde George Inn. It being a Bank Holiday Weekend we were part of the 'Family Fun Day', and with live music also happening out in the garden we wondered whether we would be better playing outdoors rather than in the bar. Eventually it was decided that indoors was best, and our two sets were witnessed by a cheery assortment of locals (with the odd ex-girlfriend thrown in) amid much drinking, dancing and merriment. I suppose that's why they call it a fun day? This is a venue where they, as the old saying goes, 'pass the hat round' (in this case, my hat) as the band is finishing - I got the job of counting the coppers and was amused to find a supermarket trolley token among them - you know, those things you can use instead of a pound coin. What can this mean? Answers on a postcard please, usual address...

And today I've got 'White Men In Hammersmith Odeon' by The Clash playing in the background as I type this (The Clash really were brilliant weren't they? And this show is extraordinary, as this clip of 'Armagideon Time' shows) and with Ruts D.C. playing in Serbia this coming Friday there are strings to change and stuff to sort out for then. I've also got songs to learn for the next night when I'm playing at The 12 Bar Club (alongside Chris Pope and The Legendary Groovymen) with the astonishingly-named London Sewage Company - more news on that as and when I have it... oh, and Big Al and the band are in Colnbrook on Sunday afternoon, so it's another busy weekend in prospect. Good!