Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Everybody's carrying a gun

Well I don't mind admitting that I've not felt great today - possibly as a result of 4 late nights in a row, possibly as a result of what I've been doing during those late nights, more likely due to combination of both. I knew Friday, Saturday and Sunday were going to take their toll but after a very busy day in the shop yesterday I went down to RnR Studios in Uxbridge to catch the end of a Department S rehearsal. With Phil from Bug now installed on guitar and new drummer Alex getting to grips with the material they are preparing for some upcoming shows which depending on founder member Mike Herbage's availability may or may not feature your humble narrator on guitar; with this in mind we repaired to The Dolphin to discuss tactics - after spending several hours in there and The Queen's Head I fear we were still no nearer to working out where and when I may appear with them. Or maybe we were - it's a little tricky to remember...

Friday night The Upper Cut found themselves in the somewhat incongruous surroundings of Buckinghamshire Golf Club. We played there almost exactly a year to the day ago (once again on the evening of their St. George's Day event) and I received a call this week asking if we'd like to make a return appearance. There is of course only one answer to a question like that, and it isn't 'no'... as with last year we arrived to the general confusion of the staff, although after asking around in the bar we soon found the right people to talk to. One of the chaps who was there the previous year was on top form, telling us that he'd instructed the person who was paying us to adopt a generous approach to the evening. Well what he actually said was 'I've told 'im, don't be a c@nt, pay the boys wot vere facking werf', but I think you know what I mean. By the time we started playing at half past nine it was clear that with a few participants having been there for getting on for 12 hours a noisy night was in prospect, and a suitably raucous show ensued. Could it all happen again next year? We shall see!

Yes, it does look like
 a gun doesn't it?
The next day Ruts D.C. journeyed up to Bedford for a show supporting The Neville Staple Band at The Corn Exchange. With much of the journey spent singing copies of our new 'Jah War' single (now there's something that I never thought that I'd ever type. It's true though!) the mood was good, and the air of jollity continued for the rest of the day which saw opening act New Groove Formation getting things off to a suitably lively start. Our show took a few songs to get going, although by the time we got to the afore-mentioned 'Jah War' things were definitely moving in the right direction. Time constraints meant that we couldn't play an encore but we all pronounced ourselves pleased with proceedings. The evening ended with The Neville Staple Band mixing Specials songs with ska classics and playing an excellent set in process. A successful night's work.

And last night Wilko Johnson continued his remarkable renaissance with a blistering performance at The Shepherds Bush Empire. Support came from the always-worth-seeing Eight Rounds Rapid, whose splendid 30 minute set found favour among the rapidly-arriving audience, many of whom seemed to be recent converts to the cause judging by the number of Who t-shirts on display. As Wilko took to the stage to a hero's welcome it was clear that we were in for an evening to remember, and as always the great man delivered a storming show which bought the proverbial house down. As I say it was clear that some songs were better known by the audience than others, with material from 'Going Back Home' getting a big reaction and other songs seeming to pass some people by, but none of that seemed to bother the band who all played brilliantly. A top evening all round, not least because those splendid chaps from 8RR managed to get me into the after show party. That's another drink I owe you boys...

Monday, April 20, 2015

You cannot be serious!

In writing these (ahem!) hallowed pages I quite often find myself recounting things that when I read back through them seem scarcely believable - but an incident that occurred at The Upper Cut's performance on Saturday evening at The Halfway House in Barnes has to go down as one of the best. There I was at the bar with Scots Kenny, the always-genial mate of UC bassman Terry discussing of all things The Motors (and why not? They were great weren't they?!?) when we were approached by a man who I will politely describe as 'odious'. Sorry to have to say that but, well, he just was. Nasty, bitter, rude - it was written all over him. You and indeed I sadly meet people like that sometimes don't you? He cared not a jot for the fact that Kenny and myself were having a private conversation but instead interrupted and weighed in with the line 'you should be enhancing my evening but you're coming close to ruining it'. At first I thought that perhaps he'd heard what we'd been saying and wasn't a Motors fan (in which case he'd obviously be a total git - after all, who doesn't like The Motors?) but when he followed it up with 'let me give you some advice' I knew we were in for an entertaining time. He went on to tell Kenny that although he was 'quite a good singer' his vocals were so loud that they were giving him a headache. Although struggling to keep a straight face (well, I certainly was!) we politely agreed to turn Kenny's vocals down in our second set - meaning that we of course left our singer Terry's setting where they were. So what happened next? You've guessed it, our friendly neighbourhood buffoon approached the band (and specifically Terry, who remember had been lucky enough not to have spoken to him up until this point in proceedings) and threatened all manner of terrifying actions if we didn't turn the vocals down. I briefly considered a comment along the lines of 'listen mate, I don't come around to your work and tell you how to do things, so don't come around to mine' but instead Terry told him where to go in no uncertain terms - after which the landlady came over to ask him to leave us alone before giving us the frankly astonishing news that he used to be a Wimbledon umpire and was well-known in the area for having been insulted by John McEnroe back in the day. Like I say I sometimes have trouble believing the stuff that I write here... leaving aside that idiot's antics (I'm sure a couple of people clapped as he walked out of the door a few songs later!) it was a good night - our first gig at the venue ended with barmaids dancing on the table and us being rebooked. And for the record, I didn't think that we were too loud, but I suppose that I wouldn't would I?

I dread to think what Mr. Miserable would have made of the previous evening's entertainment at The 100 Club, where The Cockney Rejects had roared through a blistering hour-or-so set in front of a sold out crowd of diehard fans, all of whom seemed to know ever word of every song and who gave them the sort of reception that their performance thoroughly deserved. I arrived just in time to miss the first band 16 Guns (sorry lads!) as I had been to meet Richard and Blaise from Cadiz Music in The Ship in Wardour Street where I received the sad news that the pub was about to close for several weeks before reopening as a gastropub. Bugger! How many more landmark establishments will we lose in the name of so-called 'progress'? I however did see a splendid set from The Morgellons (let's face it, any band who plays 'The Blank Generation' has to be worth a look!) and a not-such-splendid set from The East End Badoes although in the latter's defence I did spend much of their time on stage catching up with various people so perhaps I should not be quite so judgemental (for once!) about them.

The previous day Segs and myself had met up to review some ideas for new Ruts D.C. songs - we worked on some chords sequences, recorded two rough demos and looked at any number of lyrical ideas so the day was certainly a success on pretty much every level. The band is about to announce a batch of shows for the Autumn including some in far-flung and in my case previously unchartered territories - watch this space, as they (whoever 'they' are) say... and we're playing at The Corn Exchange in Bedford with The Neville Staple Band this Saturday which has all the makings of a classic evening.

And it was a classic day yesterday when The London Sewage Company recorded 5 songs at The Brook in Wallington. Engineer Andy does a fair bit of work with Status Quo, and as I did a fair bit of work with Pip Williams back in the '90s we had plenty to talk about - progress was swift and although the tracks have yet to be mixed it looks as though they should turn out well. Game, set and match, you might say...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The calm after the storm? The calm before the next storm?

Well there we are then - a few weeks of intense activity (by my standards anyway!) and suddenly I'm back in the real World. Ooo! Still it's been good to have a week-and-a-bit to get things in order (I didn't half have a lot of clothes to wash!) and working at Balcony Shirts before the next batch of gigs begin. 

The long-awaited (by me at any rate!) book 'Love In Vain - The Story Of The Ruts and Ruts D.C.' by Roland Link is due out next month - we'll be playing The Islington in (you've guessed it!) Islington as part of the PledgeMusic funding campaign on Saturday 9th May which should be a night to remember. We're also about to release a 7'' single featuring a re-recording of the Ruts classic 'Jah War' which even though I say so myself has turned out really well. (I know you wouldn't expect to say that it's terrible but you know what I mean I think!) And myself and Segs are getting together tomorrow to go through yet more ideas for new songs - exciting stuff!

Although I wasn't out gigging myself last weekend I did manage to see a couple of shows, starting on Friday night with The Secret Police at Tropic At Ruislip. The Police were never exactly the coolest of bands to like, to the extent that they almost fit into the 'guilty pleasure' category for many. For what my opinion is worth I think they made some great records and having seen them play a couple of times back in the day can say that they were absolutely brilliant live. Much of their material is notoriously difficult to play, and I thought that The Secret Police made a very good job of things despite backing tracks malfunctioning as early as the first song. It looked as though they were running them from a somewhat temperamental iPad, and if this proves nothing else then the old adage 'always carry a spare' comes to mind... still once they got going it sounded excellent, and I for one had forgotten just how great songs like 'Bring On the Night' are. 
The next night it was off to Sub89 in Reading to see Adam Ant. A packed house witnessed an energetic performance from The Ant Man and his band (with Tom sounding splendid on low-slung Les Paul) who performed the 'Dirk Wears White Sox' album to the approval of all concerned. The show then continued with a selection of B-sides and early less-than-well-known material - you could all but hear the collective sigh of relief from the audience as 'Kings Of The Wild Frontier' began the encore, and 'Antmusic' caused predicable hysteria before a medley of 'Get It On' and 'You're So Physical' bought a highly enjoyable evening to an end.

This coming weekend there's a London Sewage Company recording session and The Upper Cut play their first gig since January, at The Halfway House in Barnes. We've not played their before so it'll hopefully be a good night. Before that I'm intending to see The Cockney Rejects at The 100 Club on Friday - well, I haven't been there for a couple of weeks...

Monday, April 06, 2015

'I've got dreams to remember...'

So - how do I describe the last few days? 

Well yesterday is reasonably straightforward to get to grips with - I got up, did my washing, caught up on phone calls and went to see a great gig by The Razors at The Feathers in Rickmansworth. Easy. It's the previous few days that's a bit trickier to put into words.
Here, in essence, is what happened -

Wednesday - rehearsed with Ruts D.C. during the day and The London Sewage Company in the evening.

Thursday - travelled to Paris with Ruts D.C., where we stayed in Montreuil in anticipation of playing a show there the following evening.

Friday - Ruts D.C. played said show at Cafe La Peche, part of which was filmed for inclusion in 'Tracks', a long-running Arte television show.

Saturday - travelled back to London where I played at The Shepherd's Bush Empire with The London Sewage Company and The Water Rats in King's Cross with Neck.

And that, in simple terms is what happened. But there was more, so much more to it all than that.

When you're a kid trying to learn to play the guitar, you dream a lot. Well I certainly did. I've realised that some musicians are more career-orientated from the word go when it comes to what they want out of playing music. Some want money, some want fame, some want sex, some want drugs, some want all of the above and more - and some of course get all of the above and more. I realise now that I was much more naive than that - maybe that's why I don't get very much of any of the above? On the other hand I get to do the things that I do - and that's alright. 

So what were my dreams about? Well as I say, I was pretty naive; I wanted to play music here, abroad, on television, in big venues, in bands that people had heard of - and I did all of those things in the last few days. Pretty good huh? Well I think it is - maybe one day I'll get some of the other things too? 

Blackpool Tower looks different
at this time of year...
The gigs themselves were great. Really great. Ruts D.C. last played a show way back in January at The 100 Club and rehearsals since then have mostly involved working on new material, so this week's get together was to revise our live show. And revise it we did - alongside the new song 'Secondhand Child' we also added a version of 'Brand New Cadillac' which Segs had sung at last month's Joe Strummer film gig; I'm not sure how long it'll stay in our set but it's certainly good fun to play and it made a good encore song. A film crew from the French and German television show 'Tracks' filmed part of our performance and an interview with Dave and Segs; they also filmed us at the Le Rond Point bar which has been our virtual home for the duration of our visit. We were staying next door at The Hotel de Belfort and had gone there shortly after our arrival on Thursday evening - Segs used to live in Paris and his astonishing command of the French language (or more specifically Parisian French, which I'm told is quite different) meant that we were accepted almost immediately, and indeed were in there until closing time. Despite our headaches we returned there the next day for lunch (which I missed as I decided to be a tourist and head for Place de la Concorde for some sightseeing) and for some food before the show. If I was to say that Segs was presented with a large bottle of red wine by Omar the owner as we were leaving for London on Saturday morning then you'll realise how well he was thought of in said establishment. The presence of the TV film crew also shows how well The Ruts and indeed Ruts D.C. are thought of in France - the 'Chorus' footage remains the best visual record of the original band playing live, and anticipation of our show was high. I don't think I'm being big headed when I say that we delivered the goods - you know when you've played a good show in the same way that you know when you've played a bad one, and this was definitely a good one. Our next gig is in Bedford on April 25th with The Neville Staple Band, and I'm looking forward to that being a good one too. Well you have to think like that don't you?

And then there was Saturday. After our Eurostar journey (isn't The Channel Tunnel an amazing thing?) I got something to eat before heading to Shepherd's Bush where I was playing at The Empire with The London Sewage Company supporting The Men They Couldn't Hang. The Empire. I've seen so many great gigs there over the years - The Who, The Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop... and then there are those OGWT gigs from back on the seventies that I used to watch in between dreams - Rory Gallagher, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton... I'd not played there before and it has always been a place that I hoped that I'd play at one
Your humble narrator on stage
at The Shepherds Bush Empire.
Or is it a dream?
day. Things like this have a habit of being something of an anti-climax, and I was all too aware that this could happen here - thankfully our breathless 30 minute set was all that I hoped that it would be. And it was impossible to look out from the stage and think of the other people who had stood where I was now standing. I get far too romantic about this stuff sometimes don't I? Or maybe I don't get romantic enough? I should perhaps had stayed there all evening, watched main support band Merry Hell and headliners TMTCH, had a few drinks, talked to anybody that wanted to talk - but no, I had work to do. Neck were headlining an Easter Rising Commemoration gig at The Water Rats at 10.30, and as I left The SBE just after nine I'd be lying if I didn't say that part of me wished I was staying - but the other part of me was looking forward to playing at another venue that had previously eluded me on my (ahem!) musical journey through the venues of the World. Two name London venues in the same night - well, why not? And the Neck show was great too - it's good when that happens. Then again The Metropolitan Line was closed so I had a long and circuitous journey home - I don't remember that being in any of the dreams... 

Yeah I know, this piece is all a bit garbled - you should see the stuff I've left out!!