Sunday, June 29, 2014

'Time is a train, makes the future the past...'

'Oi you know 'oo you look like? Vat bloke, oh wattsis name... ver bloke in "Bottom", not ver dead one, ve uvver one...'

The two young ladies that have just sat opposite me are cheery enough but they are a bit, shall we say, rough around the edges. It had clearly been a good Friday night. 'You might want to move' said the taller of the two, smiling as she produced a bottle of vodka, some lime cordial and two cardboard Costa coffee cups. No, no, I'm fine where I am thank you. In fact, I'm rather looking forward to the rest of my journey.
We're on a train travelling from Liverpool Street to Southend. I'm on my way to meet Austin who I'm playing a gig with that evening and up until this point I've only had the latest edition of 'Vive Le Rock' magazine for company. They - well, they're going wherever the action takes them.

'Wassat? Vat fing in the seat next to ya? Are you a musician? I bet you're a right show off aintcha?'

At this point I should say that despite the shorter girl operating at a volume that probably ensured that everybody else in the train could hear her, I was having trouble working out what she was saying. Hay fever has given me bunged up sinuses and ears full of wax, a situation that had conspired against me the previous evening when The Upper Cut had played a short notice gig at The Admiral Nelson in Twickenham. I didn't particularly enjoy the show - nothing to do with the band, it's just that I had real problems hearing what was going on and so missed a few cues. I also couldn't gauge how loud I was playing - from what I'm told I was a bit too loud at the start, too quiet in the middle and more-or-less at the right volume by the end - and it was hard to pitch my vocals. Still people were dancing and everyone that I spoke to after the show said that it had been a good gig so I guess we must have been doing something right. Sadly my ears hadn't improved the next day (they're still bad as I type this, perhaps I'll get some Otex tomorrow) which meant a potentially fraught Saturday night gig in prospect, depping with The Essex Blues Brothers at a 40th birthday party in Maldon. Having spent a fair few years playing in The Chicago Blues Brothers band I was reasonably familiar with the material, but whereas that was generally a full band here the drums, bass and keyboards were on backing tracks with the guitar, horns and vocals being performed live. Austin had sent me the tracks to practice with (I worked with him in his duo Liquid a few years ago, and both he and his fellow Blues Brother Chris both depped with the CBBs) which were a great help, to such an extent that I dread to think what sort of a mess I would have been in if I hadn't heard them first. That said I don't mind admitting that it all gave me the rather odd feeling that I was going back in time. Sort of. A bit. Maybe.
I'd not met Graham (trumpet) or Anita (saxophone) before but they were both very friendly and helpful, going through the music to answer any enquiries that I had, and I hadn't seen Chris (a.k.a. C.J.) for ages so it was good to catch up with him. The gig was in a marquee in a field - we got there to be told that they'd just finished building the stage (!) and that they were ready for us to set up. I was using a Pod rather than an amplifier and so was concerned that I wouldn't be able to hear what I was playing (and given my current plight, whether I would be able to hear anything at all) but by the time we'd run through a couple of songs it all sounded pretty good, even to me. With guests already arriving we retired to our dressing room / portacabin to get changed and to plan the evening - there's a hog roast at 8.15 (there's no vegetarian option so it's a bread roll and some coleslaw for me!) followed by our first set from 9.15 - 10 o'clock and our second from 11 until midnight. I was feeling a bit rough (having hay fever in the middle of a bloody great load of grass is definitely not to be recommended!) so I cowered in Austin's van until showtime, and barring the odd mad moment on guitar our two sets went very well, although how we managed to wind up ending the evening with 'Weather With You' is frankly a bit beyond me. Mind you, it had been that kind of day...  

Ade Edmondson,
earlier today.
Back on the train, the shorter of the two girls won't stop talking. To me.
'You do look like 'im, you really do... so wot sorta music d'you play? We're from Stevenage, it's my birfday, firty five, we're going to Sarfend, d'you know it? 'Ere if 'ee's a musician, 'ee might know where we can get some gear from - 'ere d'you know where we can get some gear from? We done all ours last night...'
No I didn't know where they could get some gear for the weekend, which was a bit of a shame as I was beginning to feel like taking some myself. That said they've now forgotten about me and started on the young lad across the aisle from us, telling him he's got eyes 'like marbles' and that he must 'drive the birds mad' - at which point a burly chap in high-visibility clothing walked through to use the toilet at the end of our carriage. They like him. They like him a lot. He seems to like them too. There are smiles all round, including from me. They're alright really, just out for a good time - and what could be wrong with that? Oh hang on, they've spotted me again...
'You oright vere? Wot? You talk quiet dontcha? Oh yeah you carn't 'ear can ya? Wot you reading? Never 'eard ov it, what's it abaht?'
Well I still couldn't hear her too well but I could certainly hear the shouting and crashing coming from behind the toilet door. 'I'm farking locked in!' roared Mr. Hi-Viz from within, 'I can't farking git aht!' Before anyone else could move the two girls had leapt into action, attempting to open said door by shouting and swearing at it (let's face it, we've all tried that option in this sort of situation haven't we?!?) before kicking at it with all their collective might. 'Oi farking watch it!' bellowed Mr. Hi-Viz - 'we're only tryin' 'oo open it' shrieked the taller girl as a ticket inspector arrived with the words 'Sir? Sir, are you in there sir?'
'Course I'm in 'ere, I'm farking stuck!'
He quietly suggested how the door might be opened - something to do with using the handle correctly if I remember rightly - and a few seconds later Mr. Hi-Viz emerged triumphantly. His phone rang as the shorter girl offered to, shall we say, pleasure him if he could get them some gear for the weekend; meanwhile the inspector and myself smiled at each other as he asked to see my ticket, and normal service was resumed on the 14.35 service from London Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

'You don't know anywhere that I can borrow a bass from do you?'

It's 10 o'clock on Friday morning and I've just answered the phone to John 'Segs' Jennings, bass guitarist (and vocalist, lest we forget) with popular punk rock / reggae combo Ruts D.C.; the above line was not perhaps one that I was expecting to hear him say, although if the time that I've spent mucking around with guitars have taught me anything then it's to expect the unexpected...
We (Ruts D.C.) are off to Yorkshire to play a show at The Willowman Festival near Thirsk; Segs, sound man Nick and driver / backline man Jon (making his debut working with the band, we met him on the Damned tour last year and he also runs Abatis Studios) had met at Driving You Crazy in Brentford to collect a splitter bus, and when Segs got the merchandise and his bag out of the taxi he discovered that he'd left his bass guitar at home. Bugger! As we talked over options (Did I know anyone? Did he know anyone? Would it be simpler if he just went home and got his?) he then revealed that due to a booking mix-up we were going to have to come straight back after the show as we would have to get the bus back to DYC before 9am Saturday morning rather than later in the day as we'd thought when we booked ourselves a hotel near the festival site. Bugger! Again! So far, so bad - but as always with this sort of thing there's no point in worrying or moaning about it (although we did try a fair bit of swearing!) as you just have to get on and sort the situation out. After we'd both rang around trying to find a suitable instrument for him we quickly realised that it would indeed be easier if he just went home for his and then travelled up by train to meet us at the hotel that we would have been staying in (!) We also steeled ourselves for the long late night drive home - or rather Jon did, as it was him who would be doing the driving... meanwhile Dave was driving to Kensington with merch girl Rhiannon to pick up the drum mat that he'd mistakenly left in Brighton at last weekend's gig - he was originally going to leave his car near me and then travel up with us in the bus before returning the next day to collect his car and drive to his Saturday night gig, but as he was running late he opted to drive up to Yorkshire and stay the night at the hotel (well, we had the rooms booked and it was too late to cancel them, and we were meeting Molara there anyway) before driving back for his gig the next day. Keep up at the back there...

Actually once all of this had been decided upon the rest of the day went remarkably smoothly - we all met up at The Black Bull in Northallerton (pity we weren't staying there, it looked like a really nice place!) and from there made our way to The Willowman Festival where we played a storming set headlining The Willow Wobbly Stage (!) and had a very good ending to what might have been a very bad day... except of course that wasn't the end of the day, as we then had to drive back to London, a job that Jon (ably assisted by a suitable amount of coffee) accomplished with great aplomb. Hopefully his first day hasn't put him off working with us in the future, as it was a great pleasure to have him along with us.
Your humble narrator
on Sunday evening -
note the lack of audience!

I spent a fair bit of Saturday morning drifting in and out of consciousness before admitting defeat and going back to bed. As I went to lie down my phone rang - Segs's opening line of 'are you still alive?' gives you some idea of how he (and indeed I) was feeling... still it's amazing what a bit of sleep can do, and come the evening I was readying myself for an Upper Cut gig at Ye Olde George in Colnbrook. With Roger drumming elsewhere we've got Richard Hudson (a.k.a. 'Hud') on loan from The Good Old Boys - by the time I arrived at the venue he was all set up and ready to go. Rehearsal consisted of a drink and a talk through some of the songs, and barring the odd mad moment we played two 45 minute sets to the increasing approval of the assembled multitude, with Hud playing brilliantly and a good time being had by all. Well, we certainly enjoyed ourselves... I think this was the first Saturday show at the venue (it's usually a Sunday afternoon gig) and they're talking about making it a regular occurrence - with more and more venues closing it's great to see somewhere that's increasing the number of shows that they're putting on. Excellent!

And last night Back To Zero played at The 100 Club, on a splendid bill that also featured The Fallen Leaves and Eight Rounds Rapid. I was told that our set was a bit loud in the room - hopefully that masked the appalling amount of errors that I made (I was away for Friday's rehearsal - well, that's my excuse anyway!) although Sam's grin as I fluffed the opening riff of 'Talking To Myself' meant that I certainly hadn't managed to hide anything from him! Meanwhile The Fallen Leaves and Eight Rounds Rapid were both as brilliant as ever, with the only downside to things being the rather low audience numbers. To be fair the place did fill up as the evening went on, but surely it should have been packed for a bill as good as this - shouldn't it? Well, I think that it should!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Creepy Crawley

I'm sure like me you were saddened to hear of the death of Rik Mayall last week. Although I can't claim to have followed every aspect of his career I remember Kevin Turvey well, and even though I somehow managed to all but completely miss The Young Ones (no, I'm not sure how either!) his appearance as Lord Flashheart in Blackadder II remains something of a classic, as does his all-too-accurate portrayal of scheming Tory MP Alan B'Stard in The New Statesman. We need more characters like Mr. Mayall don't you think?

Last Wednesday evening Back To Zero gathered at Soundlab Studios in Loughton to rehearse for this Sunday's show at The 100 Club with Eight Rounds Rapid and The Fallen Leaves. We tried a couple of new songs, ran through all of our older material and all agreed that we were really looking forward to this weekend's gig. Well, it is a rather excellent bill even though I say so myself! And talking of rehearsals The London Sewage Company were last night working towards our second public performance, which will be at the afore-mentioned 100 Club on July 17th supporting Menace and The Morgellons. Now that should be an interesting evening...

And it was certainly an interesting evening on Friday, when Ruts D.C. journeyed down to Brighton for a show at The Concorde 2. Now I've got some rather odd memories of this venue - the only time I'd previously played there I managed to break the headstock off my guitar (remind me to tell you the story one day!) and I was last there back in December 2006 when among others I saw Paul Fox play. Now I was about to play some of his best riffs on the same (repaired) guitar. I was halfway through the guitar solo in 'West One (Shine On Me)' when I realised that not only was I standing on the same side of the stage as he'd been when I saw him there but I was also more-or-less exactly where I was when my guitar got broken. As I remembered him saying how he always made a mistake when playing this particular solo, I - you've guessed it! - made a mistake. Hmmm... but this didn't put a dampener on what was overall an absolutely brilliant evening, despite the early showtime (it becomes a club at 11 o'clock and they rather unsubtly shepherd everyone out when the gig ends) and the heat (what a night for the air conditioning to fail!) Earlier I'd seen ex - Newtown Neurotics drummer Simon Lomond for the first time in ages (The Price used to support them back in the day and I saw them live many times) and he had Rupert Orton of The Jim Jones Revue with him who I'd not met before but who turned out to be a massive Ruts fan (good man!) He asked if we were going to play 'Something That I Said' - I told him that we hadn't worked a set out yet, but I'd make sure that we'd play it. (And we did - Segs gives The JJR a namecheck at the start of this clip from the show.) I also met photographer Syd Shelton (he took photos of The Ruts and many other bands as well as being very involved in Rock Against Racism) as well as seeing Adrian who writes the always-excellent Aural Sculptors blog, Andy Peart from Vive Le Rock magazine, original Price fan Dave Nash - it really was a night to remember in so many ways, not least as Horseman joined us for this unique version of 'Jah War'. Great stuff all round - and here is a review of the evening from the Nigeyb's World Of Joy. Nice photos don't you think?

As if to prove the old adage that you don't get something for nothing in life Saturday began with the realisation that there was only cold water to shower with. Oooo! If you ever find yourself about to check into The Ramada in Crawley then you might like to ask them if there's any hot water before you decide to stay there... we'd made the hour-ish journey there after the Brighton show in a bid to lessen the journey to Santa Pod Raceway where we were playing at The BWM Rally the next night; despite the freezing cold wash this proved to be a reasonable decision as we made it to The Ibis in Wellingborough before three in the afternoon. As we turned off the main road Segs smiled - 'I don't believe it, we're booked into The Priory!' We weren't - it was the pub across the road, not the well-known rehabilitation centre - but Dave and myself did accompany him to said establishment for a couple of drinks before heading back to our hotel to prepare for the gig (in my case by sleeping!)
We arrived onsite to find that the previous bands had run late, and with people already leaving to watch the England vs Italy World Cup game we eventually got onstage at 10 o'clock. Overall I thought that we gave a good show, but although we went down well the show lacked the somewhat triumphant nature of the previous night's proceedings. Ah well - the people that we spoke to afterwards really enjoyed it, so maybe I'm being a bit over-critical (again!) And we made it back to our hotel in time to see the second half of the match, so it wasn't all bad news by any means. 

And I made it back home the next day in time to join Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks for a 5pm show at Ye Olde George in Colnbrook. I felt tired - let's face it, I was tired! - and as such didn't feel that I played too well, but no one complained. Well, not to my face anyway! 

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Blood on the tracks

I got on a tube train the other day - nothing too unusual about that - and as I sat down I smiled cheerily at the two young ladies who were sitting opposite me. They looked somewhat awkwardly back at me, probably because blood had just started pouring from my nose. Sadly there is nothing too unusual about that either (the nosebleed, not ladies looking awkwardly at me... actually thinking about it... hmmm, maybe it's best that I don't think about that too much!) at this time of year as the hay fever season is once again upon us. Every year I think that I might be lucky and it won't effect me, and every year it does... bah!

In the meantime I have spent much of last week at Jamm in Brixton with house engineer Greg a.k.a Wizard working on, among other things, the upcoming Ruts D.C. live album. We've been reviewing recordings from several shows recorded over the last year or so with a view to compiling the best ones for release - as you might well imagine this is quite a lengthy and time consuming process, not least because the album is being mixed by Lee Groves (an old friend of Dave and Segs) who lives and works in New York. To this end we email a track over to him, he sends us a mix back, we listen and send him comments, he changes the mix accordingly then sends it back, we listen and send him comments... well, you get the idea. However from what I've heard this week it's all going to be worth it, as the tracks are sounding excellent. We're playing at The Concorde 2 in Brighton this coming Friday followed by a show the next night at The BWM Rally at Santa Pod Raceway, and there are more dates coming in all the time - good news all round!

After a day in the studio I travelled across town to The Half Moon in Putney on Friday evening to catch a night promoted by Retro Man blog writer Steve Worrall. I arrived just in time to catch a couple of songs by The Galileo 7, who feature ex - Prisoners bassist Allan Crockford on guitar and vocals. They sounded good enough for me to resolve to catch them again as soon as possible. Next up were The Len Price 3 who delivered a blistering set to the enthusiastic approval of everyone in the by-now sold out room. It was then left to headliners Graham Day and The Forefathers to close a brilliant evening, which they did in fine style. I've been a massive fan of Day's work since I first heard The Prisoners back in the day, and he remains a criminally under-rated singer and songwriter. As I say, a brilliant evening.

I've also played two shows with Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks over the weekend, the first of which was at The Paddington Packet Boat in Cowley. With Pete away for the day I was on solo guitar duties, and with Dave gigging elsewhere Bob Pearce depped on drums for a show that suffered audience-wise at the hands of the England v Honduras game but was nevertheless an enjoyable affair. And I have just - just! - got in from a splendid afternoon show at The Horns in Watford. Dave returned on drums, Pete and myself were both on guitars and everybody in the band gave a fine performance. Great stuff - and there's plenty to look forward to this week, not least the Ruts D.C. gigs at the weekend. Hmmm... I've only played at The Concorde 2 once before, and on that occasion I managed to break to headstock off my Les Paul. Oooo! I intend to be using said instrument for these shows (it has been repaired in the meantime!) and hopefully nothing too untoward will happen this time. Mind you, we are playing on Friday 13th... 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Back to Brixton and beyond

Before last weekend's Ruts D.C. shows Thursday evening saw Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks return to The Sunningdale Lounge in Sunningdale. This was our third appearance there in 2 months which I thought was pushing our luck a bit in terms of us getting an audience, but as so often happens I was wrong (!) and the place was all but full. It just goes to show what I know eh? Our set was well received by all concerned including Graham the guv'nor who again offered us a return gig almost immediately - this time however Al went for a show in a few weeks time on July 24th. Hmmm... that's my birthday...

Ruts D.C. rehearsed on Friday, after which we met up with Richard from Cadiz Music to consider options for future releases. Talk was talked, drinks were (inevitably!) drunk and plans were planned - hopefully there are exciting times ahead... on the way home I called in to Tropic At Ruislip where I arrived just in time to catch Ian Dury And The Blockheads tribute band The Blox who were supporting my old mates The Pistols. With Dury being one of the most distinctive frontmen of them all and The Blockheads being famously brilliant musicians a tribute act has a lot to live up to - I thought they did a good job especially the deputy Dury (although he's got to watch the timing of his tambourine playing - did Dury ever play one?!?) with the band following him every step of the way. Mind you, none of this explains why they played 'Madness' and '54-46 Was My Number'... meanwhile the Pistols were as great as ever, and it was good to catch up with them all again.

I seem to be spending a lot of time at Jamm in Brixton these days, what with us gigging there and then working on Ruts D.C. recordings there at various times in the last few days. After our show there last Monday I met Pete 'Manic Esso' Haynes at The 12 Bar Club - I hadn't seen him for a while and there was a lot to talk about. His latest book 'Cool Water' is published by Caffeine Nights later this month - let's hope it goes some way towards giving Esso the success that his hard work deserves. I was back in Brixton during the day on Tuesday but in the evening I went to Rough Trade East to see Electric River play a launch show for their new album 'The Faith & Patience'. The afore-mentioned Richard was there (Cadiz are putting their album out) as was 'Vive Le Rock' editor Eugene Butcher who manages the band. I hadn't seen them for a while and I thought they sounded terrific. I've since been backwards and forwards to the studio quite a few times since - maybe I should see if there's a Travelodge nearby?!?

And this posting ends as it began, with a BA & The BBs (that's so much easier than typing 'Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks' I can tell you! Mind you, I've just had to type it again to tell you that... bugger!) gig last night at The Three Wishes in Harrow. With the Froch v Groves fight being shown in the venue our show was somewhat inevitably compromised - we played a short set before and a longer set after the boxing, and all things considered it all went pretty well. There are three gigs for the band this coming weekend, although it'll depend on how the studio work goes as to how many of them I'll be able to play. Let's see what this week brings shall we...