Sunday, August 23, 2015

Back for good?

I've just been listening to the splendid new live album 'Triumph Over Adversity' by The Newtown Neurotics. Recorded at Brunel University in Uxbridge back in 1987, The Price supported along with a local band called In Session at a benefit night for Multiple Sclerosis research. Contrary to what the sleeve notes say Steve Lamacq didn't provide the recording of the show - I did. As a big fan of the band I gave the sound engineer a cassette and asked him to record their set - I then copied it for a few friends including Steve (who I don't remember actually being at the gig, despite what the sleeve notes say) who then inadvertently played it to Neurotics singer / songwriter Steve Drewett when he gave him a lift one day. The sleeve notes are correct on that point - although I don't think the bomb scare that occurred after our set was a terrorist threat; I recall it being an animal rights organisation who objected to the use of animal experimentation in MS research. Anyway after hearing it Steve D. asked me if I still had the master tape, which I did and subsequently passed on to him.

So - it's all my fault!   

It really is a great show, every bit as exciting as I remember it being on the night, and although it's been available for official download for quite some time it's wonderful to see it receiving a 'proper' release at last. Highly recommended - even if the final encore of 'I Fought The Law' has gone missing! - and the band gave a fine performance at The Rebellion Festival earlier this month so they're still well worth seeing live if you get the chance.  

It's often a bit weird to think back to earlier times. The past is a funny place isn't it? Musically I've always tried to leave it behind as much as possible - I rarely if ever listen to recordings by previous bands, and have never been one for over-analysing shows. They may have been good, they may have been bad, but they're done and you're only as good as your next show. Still between the above live album and last Friday's gig I've been travelling backwards and forwards in time a fair bit over the last few days, as on Friday evening I played a corporate show with The Amazing Blues Brothers at The Ocean View Hotel in Bournemouth. I worked a lot with Mike and Matt in The Chicago Blues Brothers, which all ended a few years ago amid no little chaos. I've stayed in touch with them and the other good guys in the band since it all ended, and it was a great pleasure to be asked to play with them again. With former CBB bassman Johnny Squirrel also on duty the band was completed by Josh on keyboards and Dion on drums - although everybody was set up and soundchecked by 2 pm we then had a 7 hour wait until stage time (I'd all but forgotten the 'hurry up and wait' aspect of many corporate shows) which might normally have been rather tedious, but with The Bournemouth Air Festival taking place the afternoon literally flew by.  
Although I played any number of shows with the boys back in the day I hadn't played many of the songs since, and so had spent a fair bit of time earlier in the week revising the material. Most of it came back to me surprisingly easily, which was good news from my point of view as they were also playing a batch of songs that I was considerably less familiar with. Basically they lose the Blues Brothers suits and sing a set of what might best be described as 'party music', which includes a few songs that I'd not played at all before. We'd had a bit of time in the soundcheck to look at some of them, but it was all still a bit nerve racking from my point of view. And of course the other thing that I was reminded of is that these sorts of things are not 'gigs' as such i.e. nobody is there to see the band, but are actually there to eat, drink and be merry. All well and good you might think, but it does mean that your performance is often all but ignored by all and sundry. Matt and Mike were having none of that however, and soon had the dance floor full. I'd all but forgotten just how good the pair of them are both as individual singers and as Blues Brothers clones - as we finished our first set with 'Gimme Some Loving' the place was going crazy. This bode well for the second set - however although we only had a short break quite a few people had drifted away by the time we went back on, some to watch the fireworks taking place on the beach and some because they had, shall we say, peaked too early... still after a few songs the dance floor had filled up again and we were even asked to play for an extra 30 minutes. From my point of view I thought it was a good show although if I'm asked to play with them again I'll make sure I've changed the battery in my overdrive pedal - the bloody thing ran out halfway through the set. Bugger! I had a spare, but I really should have checked it first shouldn't I? 

'Twas a very different show last night, when I was invited to play a couple of songs with Department S at The Lexington in King's Cross. Since I played with them in February Eddie the singer and Pete the bass player have put together a new line-up with Phil on guitar and Alex on drums, and having played a few low key shows last month this was to be their first London appearance. Thanks to the rigours of the London Underground I arrived just in time to miss the soundcheck, but did get chance to talk the songs through with the band - they had a new extended arrangement of 'Is Vic There?' but 'I Want' was the same as when I last played with them. From there it was time for a drink and a catch up before first band on Los Pepes opened the evening with an excellently raucous set. Next up were Duncan Reid and The Big Heads, whose blazing power pop performance bought the proverbial house down. A hard act to follow, but Dept. S weren't in the slightest bit intimidated - or if they were they certainly didn't show it. Kicking off with 'Clap Now' and 'Monte Carlo Or Bust' they were clearly in no mood for messing around - new songs mixed with old favourites and the audience loved every minute of it. By the time I fought my way across the packed dance floor to join them for their last two songs the place was going crazy, and my time on stage went by in a blur of pogoing and power chords. A fine evening all round, and the future looks good for the revamped Department S.

So there you have it - a bit of looking back, and a bit of looking forward. And why not?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Many Happy Returns

Well there you have it - the biggest gap between postings that these hallowed pages have ever seen. Well, these have been busy times. Since last Tuesday I've been working in Balcony Shirts as well as playing 3 shows with Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks and appearing at The Boomtown Fair with Ruts D.C. - all of which means that this is the first chance I've had to post anything since The Rebellion Festival

Ah yes, The Rebellion Festival. That seems a long time ago now. And in many ways it was a long time ago, or maybe to be more accurate it feels as though it was another time. 5 days in Blackpool, during which I managed, oh I don't know, maybe 20 hours sleep at the most. No wonder I couldn't keep my eyes open several times in the succeeding few days. Still that's alright - sometimes things are too interesting to sleep through aren't they?

So - what happened?

Well some details are necessarily sketchy, while others will remain with me forever. Did I, as a teenage Damned fan, ever think that I'd be in a backstage bar discussing the merits of The Prisoner with Captain Sensible? No, I did not. But this happened, and more besides. In musical terms the two Ruts D.C. shows - one on the 'big' stage in The Empress Ballroom. the other in the cramped confines of the acoustic stage - were both as good as we ever hoped that they would be, while the show with Noel from Menace and Rob from King Kurt was better than any of us could believe! The London Sewage Company show went well, an unscheduled appearance with T.V. Smith reminded me just what a genius the man is, and a song with Bug was great fun even though my guitar chose to go wildly out of tune as soon as I bent a string. It turned out that the top nut had come loose - I spent the next morning buying superglue to repair it... all this muscling onto other people's stages (that's a joke, I was invited!) meant that I played on every day of the festival, as well as working on the Cadiz Music merchandising stall the rest of the time. Maybe it wasn't just lack of sleep that was making me tired... 

I'd attempted to use my Facebook page as a kind of 'live diary' as the festival progressed, but a mixture of bad phone signal in The Winter Gardens and being too bloody busy to remember to do it meant that I didn't manage to update it as often as I'd have liked. And it wasn't all good - I had several nosebleeds (I wasn't doing anything naughty, honest!) and received a frantic phone call from my Dad telling me that my bank had called to say that my credit card had been compromised (it seems that I'd bought several ill-defined items in quick succession while working behind the stall - the very helpful young lady on the phone sorted it out in no time) but nothing could ruin what really was a 
wonderful festival. But that was then, and this is now. Back to life, back to reality. Same time next year? Let's hope so.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

'Euston, we have a problem...'

Well I've just had three 18-ish hour days in a row and have had little if any time today to sit blogging about 'em. So, in a nutshell...

Thursday - Ruts D.C. rehearsal during the day, Menace rehearsal in the evening.

Friday - Ruts D.C. rehearsal during the day, Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks gig in the evening.

Saturday - working in Balcony Shirts during the day, Neck gig in the evening.

...which all looks reasonable straightforward written down here, and I suppose in many way it was exactly that. The only bit that caused any real problems was getting stuck at Harrow-On-The-Hill Station on Friday as I was coming back from The Music Complex in Deptford (a disembodied voice repeatedly told us that the line to Uxbridge was closed due to 'signal failure at Rayners Lane'; incidentally 2 splendid sessions at said studio may well mean several new songs appearing at the coming weekend's Ruts D.C. shows - oh yes!) for a gig with Big Al and the boys at Hayes Working Men's Club. This resulted in several increasingly sweary phone conversations before the heroic efforts of fellow six-stringer Pete went above and beyond the call of duty by meeting me at Northwood Hills Station. We made it to the gig in time which went well although I felt that I played badly in the first set; it had been a long day on Thursday with the Menace rehearsal at K Town Studios in Kentish Town running on until after 10 o'clock so maybe it was all catching up with me? Still that rehearsal had also gone well, with drummer Noel sounding good on acoustic guitar (he's usually on drums!) and vocals and and Rob excelling on double bass - we're getting together again tomorrow evening so with a Ruts D.C. session also happening another long day is in prospect. Still I wanted to play the guitar didn't I? And it was definitely good to play guitar last night, when Neck played at The Good Ship in Kilburn at an evening to celebrate the 85th anniversary of The Morning Star newspaper. With Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds, Comrade X and Attila The Stockbroker also on the bill a fine night was in prospect, and I'm pleased to say that a fine night was had. Personally after a l-o-n-g day in Balcony Shirts I could perhaps had done with an early night, but as I said earlier, I wanted to play the guitar didn't I?

And there's lots of guitar playing in store for your humble narrator this coming weekend, as it's The Rebellion Festival in Blackpool - in addition to appearing with Ruts D.C. and Menace I'm also playing with The London Sewage Company, working on the Cadiz Music merchandising stall and maybe doing a few songs with a couple of other acts too. I am intending to give a kind of 'running commentary' by regularly updating my Facebook page as the festival progresses, but there are a lot of bars and they're all open all day...