Sunday, January 31, 2016

Halfway to paradise

Right - I'm bored now. I've had enough of 'normal' weeks... 

On Friday evening Dave Ruffy played with Louise Aubrie at The Dublin Castle in Camden Town. I'd met her briefly when he was recording with her at the famed and fabulous Abbey Road Studios last year - fronting a group that aside from Dave consisted of members of Adam Ant's touring band she delivered a tight set of original material in front of a very appreciative audience. I certainly enjoyed the show, although I was left thinking that perhaps there was - for want of a better term - no 'killer song' in the repertoire. All well played and sung, plenty of energy, looking good - but no knockout punch. Then again this is commercial pop music - or if it's not then it should be - so since when did a middle aged man's opinion matter? As I say a good show - and it was great to catch up with six string superman Tom Edwards again for the first time in a while. And he really say that he was going to have a word with Schecter Guitars about getting me an endorsement deal with them?!?

Last night Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks returned to The Halfway House in Barnes for a boisterous performance that featured everything from a collapsing keyboard stand to a cheery chap buying the band a round of drinks then presenting us with a bottle of red wine during our second set. Bill depped on bass (he used to be in The Glitter Band! Really!) and Al rode the wave of his recent television performance for all that it was worth. Oh and I spoke to Doogy who I'd met there a couple of times but who this time revealed that he used to be in a band called The Press who played with The Ruts at The Music Machine back in the day. A most enjoyable evening.

Aside from the above it's been a quiet few days - very welcome in many ways - but after tomorrow in Balcony Shirts the word 'normal' ceases to apply (thank gawd!) as it's time to return to the Ruts D.C. fold to resume work on the upcoming 'Psychic Attack' album. On Wednesday I've got a day with producer James Knight recording guitar parts and then on Thursday and Friday we are all in writing and rehearsal mode - there are songs to finish, brand new material to consider (Segs has not been idle and neither have I!) and the following week's sessions in Perry Vale Studios with Pat Collier to prepare for. 'Tea break over, back on your heads' as the old gag goes. Excellent!

Monday, January 25, 2016

'Transition... Transmission...'

Well it might sound a bit of a strange thing to say but I'll say it anyway - it feels as though I've just had the first 'normal' week for ages. Not that I very often do anything that deserves the label 'normal'... I've worked a couple of days in Balcony Shirts, played two gigs with Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks, been to see a band play at Tropic at Ruislip - as I say, a 'normal' week.

The shop has calmed down a bit since the Christmas blitzkrieg, although there's still more than enough going on to keep us all out of mischief. It's usually quiet at this time of year, but with school leavers, stag and hen parties and more waiting in the wings it's been a chance to clean the place up and re-do various displays. That said we had two very likely lads in and out of the shop for much of today - they were celebrating the taller one's birthday, and judging by their condition they certainly knew how to celebrate... t-shirts that featured Kermit The Frog and some 'adult' slogans were printed, and at some point in proceedings the smaller one bought five - count 'em, five! - Zippy wallets. They were last seen getting into a taxi to go to the taller one's nan's house. I wonder if they made it that far?

Big Al and the boys (once again with Dave from Red Box on bass who may well be turning up a fair bit more in the future...) returned to The Black Horse in Eastcote on Friday night for a raucous performance in front of an all-but-full house, while the next night we journeyed up to Dunstable for a very enjoyable show at The United Services Club. The early part of the evening was enlivened by a visit to the nearby Froth And Elbow, which I only suggested because of the name (!) but which turned out to have a gang of ridiculously attractive young ladies behind the bar; it also puts on live bands so Al swung into action with the business card - we shall see if we get a gig there. Further merriment came from the fact that the ITV game show 'Take Me Out' featured an appearance from Al which he'd recorded while I'd been away gigging last year. The band had been filmed (at of all places The Black Horse in Eastcote) but sadly none of that footage was used; the show itself was broadcast while we were playing our first set meaning that we were unable to watch it (shame!) but when Al switched his phone on in the interval it went crazy with text messages, Facebook postings and Twitter messages, many of whom were from ladies asking him out and indeed offering their, er, services. He didn't win on the show, but 'he who laughs last laughs longest' as the old saying goes... and no, I've never seen the show either!

And last night it was back to Tropic At Ruislip to see The Marrakesh Express - as their website puts it, 'a tribute to the music of The Byrds and Crosby Stills And Nash'. On the surface this was a rather odd event for your humble narrator to attend (both bands are far too hippyish for my not at all hippyish tastes, although it's impossible to deny the excellence of much of their music) but I was intrigued to see that they featured two members of Diesel Park West who were a band I saw several times back in the Eighties and Nineties and who I always thought deserved much more success that they achieved with 'Jackie's Still Sad' still something of an undiscovered classic. I went with Scott from Balcony Shirts who bought along friend of the shop (and indeed of Scott's) Iain Lee who turned a few heads in the venue - it's amazing what the presence of a celebrity does sometimes isn't it? Anyway we all agreed that the Byrds part of the evening was a bit disappointing - without bass and drums the songs didn't really come across as well as they might although the playing and singing was excellent throughout. However the Crosby Stills And Nash set was something else again, with stunning vocal harmonies and some superb guitar work from all concerned. An interesting evening, although inevitably still a bit too hippyish for me. Mind you it wouldn't have been right if it hadn't had been if you think about it.

And this should be another 'normal' week too. Let's see if it turns out that way...

Sunday, January 17, 2016

'Oh no - don't say it's true...'

If I'm still alive on July 24th this year - and I really hope that I will be - I'll be 55 years old.

I can't remember President Kennedy's assassination; I remember Jimi Hendrix dying, and I've already written (here!) in these hallowed pages of the trouble I got in on the day John Lennon left the building. That was probably the biggest 'celebrity death' for me - Princess Diana's passing was a huge international event but I've never been a royalist, and I suppose Kurt Cobain's death was a big one for the generation below mine. My mum always used to say that something bad always happens around Christmas (I don't know why she used to say it, but she always did!) but 2015 had ended with Brad from The Specials and Lemmy dying so surely that was bad enough? So when I woke up on Monday morning to a text message that read 'I need hugs!' from my mate Dave I wasn't sure what to think; when a text then arrived from my friend Nicky that spoke of her feeling 'sick with sadness' I thought that I'd better check the TV news...

If you're my age (or indeed a few years older or younger than me) then David Bowie has, for want of a better term, always been there. Actually he's always been miles ahead of his many imitators and indeed all of the rest of us but you know what I mean I think. And he's still there now too isn't he? There has been so much said and written about him in the last week that I don't really feel as though I can add very much, other than to say that we were lucky, very lucky, to have been on Earth at the same time as he was. Musically my favourite part of his long and magnificent career remains those immortal recordings with The Spiders From Mars, but that's just me - fans everywhere will have a different memory of what a song means to them, of how they felt when they saw him and realised that they weren't alone anymore, or that it was ok to be different, or to feel like an outsider in a world that couldn't see them and didn't care anyway, or, or, or...
Who'll love Aladdin Sane?
By a twist of fate I found myself in Brixton (Bowie's birthplace) on Monday afternoon as myself and Segs were going to Jamm to work on the Ruts D.C. recordings that we began last month. As I walked up the stairs from the underground station it was impossible not to notice that there were rather more Bowie t-shirts around that there might normally be; across from the station a small crowd had gathered around the mural on the side of the Morleys department store, with people leaving flowers, pictures, messages and more - I'm not normally one for grieving over people that I'd never met but it was impossible not to be moved by the scenes. Meanwhile The Academy had 'DAVID BOWIE - FOREVER OUR HERO' in the place where it would normally advertise the evening's main attraction - and why not? Local boy makes good. Local boy makes very good indeed. About as good as it can get if you think about it. 
I like most people have been playing a fair bit of the great man's work in the last few days - I'd actually been listening to the Spiders stuff a fair bit lately anyway in an attempt to tune into Mick Ronson's guitar genius as one of the sources of inspiration for our recordings - and have been struck by just how bloody good Bowie was.
The Bowie Academy.
Well he was wasn't he? And it's easy to forget that - you don't accidentally get a 50+ year career at anything if you're not any good at it, or (as someone remarked to me while telling me that Bowie had been 'lucky' as he 'wasn't particularly talented'. Oh dear...) if all you do is rely on fashion, or gimmicks, or indeed anything other than making great music and giving brilliant performances. David Bowie did both of those things of course, but he also did so much more. I'm sure there'll be a backlash soon, where some jumped up two bit journalist or television presenter tries to make a name for themselves by starting a bit of controversy ('he wasn't that good', 'he stole all his best moves', 'he sacked all The Spiders' - you know the sort of thing) but that'll hardly matter - the last third of The 20th Century belonged to David Bowie, and there's a good chance that a fair bit of The 21st Century will be influenced by him and his work. And rightly so. It is unlikely that we will see his like again, but we should be thankful that we saw it at all. 

Somewhat inevitably the day at Jamm was tinged with sadness. Or was it? Greg the engineer said how proud he felt that Bowie had been from Brixton; I suspect he wasn't the only one in the area with that thought. Rob from The Alabama 3 was on hand, he said that we were there to make music and make music we would - his possibly rather controversial production methods (tins of Red Stripe, bottles of wine and, er, more besides...) coaxed some astonishing vocal performances out of Segs. Even though I say so myself the tracks are sounding great; there's a lot of work still to do and more tracks to record next month but I for one am very optimistic about how the album is shaping up.

After the session I walked back along Brixton Road to the tube station - there were hundreds of people at the mural singing, dancing and indeed crying, an amazing (and from my point of view absolutely unforgettable) outpouring of emotion. It really was quite a thing to see, but nothing less than the occasion deserved.

New boy band forms - 
see you on 'The X Factor'...
On Thursday evening Dave, Segs and myself had what I suppose could be thought of as a 'works outing' to see Henry Rollins at The Barbican. In addition to being a great fan of both The Ruts and Ruts D.C. he of course sang with the band at Paul Fox's last show - I first met him at a rehearsal for said show (you can read the story here if you'd like to) and have spoken to him several times since then, he's an absolutely extraordinary character who is completely unlike anyone else that I've ever met. His 150+ minute show saw him talk (and talk and talk and, er, talk...) about anything and everything that came to mind - although some parts were obviously scripted I spoke to people who had seen other shows on this tour which were apparently quite different in content. Incredible. He told me that he has to have a timer on stage with him otherwise he would 'go on all night'. I for one don't doubt that he could do exactly that.

Tropic At Ruislip hosted Who's Who on Friday evening - given my admiration (oh ok then, worship) for The Who it's always interesting to see a tribute band and Who's Who are probably the best that I've seen (not that I've seen that many!) They're more 'Live At Leeds' than Goldhawk Club, but they make a great job of honouring The Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band In The World. And it was the first gig of 2016 for Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks last night, at The Dashwood Arms near High Wycombe. This was a new venue for the band and I must say that it's an excellent establishment with a good tradition of live music - with Terry elsewhere Dave did a great job on bass and the band began the year on high note.

This week there may well be more Ruts D.C. recording as well as another couple of Buicks gigs and probably more besides - but if you'll excuse me it's time to play 'The Jean Jenie' just one more time...

Sunday, January 10, 2016

New Year's Resolution revisited

Nothing ever really changes does it?

2015 began with your humble narrator watching Martin Turner in Ruislip, playing a Sunday afternoon gig in Colnbrook with The Upper Cut and spending rather a lot of time at The Resolution Festival at The 100 Club. 

2016 began with your humble narrator watching Martin Turner in Ruislip, playing a Sunday afternoon gig in Colnbrook with The Upper Cut and spending rather a lot of time at The Resolution Festival at The 100 Club.

As I say, nothing ever really changes does it?

I hadn't been to Tropic At Ruislip for a while; having now seen two shows there within a week of each other (I saw The Rollin' Stoned there last Friday in addition to the former Wishbone Ash man the previous Saturday) it's great to see so many people at what clearly is a thriving venue. I know that some people locally criticise the booking policy - mostly tribute acts with the 'first Friday of the month' show featuring an artist or band performing original material - but if it attracts the sort of audience numbers that these shows did it surely can't be a bad thing. And both the shows were excellent, with Martin Turner and his band sounding every bit as classy as they did last year and The Rollin' Stoned playing a great set of songs from every era of the Stones's long career to a sold out crowd.

My first gig of the year as a musician as opposed to as a spectator was with The Upper Cut at The Queen's Arms in Colnbrook. I'd not played at this pub before although the band played a short notice gig there with Pete depping on guitar last month; it being the first Sunday of the New Year it wasn't as busy as it might have been but there were still more than enough people there to make it work. That said although it was by no means a bad show the band wasn't as tight as it can be so it might well be time for a rehearsal or two before our next gig.

The Resolution Festival opened at The 100 Club last Monday with spirited sets from The Ramonas and The Duel - booked by The Crucial Talent Agency and featuring artists and bands from right across the punk rock spectrum highlights have been many and varied, although I have to say that last night's U.K. Subs show and The Members gig on Tuesday night stood out for me. I joined T.V. Smith and Vom for a few songs during their excellent performance supporting the afore-mentioned Members, and Segs joined us for the set closer 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes' - with Gaye Advert in the audience he confessed to being nervous before the show, but it all went brilliantly well as this short clip shows. All in all a great event which will hopefully take place again next year.

And tomorrow Segs and myself will be in the studio at Jamm in Brixton reviewing and working on last month's Ruts D.C. recordings. 2016 then...

Friday, January 08, 2016

Ruts D.C. 'Psychic Attack' recording sessions, December 2015

Saturday 19th December, 10.54am on a tube train going into London.   

And so it begins.

Today is the first day of recording sessions for the Ruts D.C. album 'Psychic Attack'. We've spent two days this week with producer James Knight at The Music Complex in Deptford running through 6 songs - 'Psychic Attack', 'Secondhand Child', 'Surprise', 'Tears On Fire', 'Soft City Lights' and 'Golden Boy' - with a 7th song 'Innocent' on (for want of a better term) the subs bench. We played the first 3 on the Psychic Attack Tour this autumn, while 'Golden Boy' was played acoustically at The Rebellion Festival back in August. The other songs have yet to be played on stage although we've been working on them and quite a few other ideas throughout the last year or so. As often happens before a song is recorded there are changes to be made to rehearsal or live versions - James (a.k.a. Jim) suggested some arrangement alterations alongside different drum patterns and bass and guitar parts. It can sometimes feel a bit odd to have someone come in with ideas as to how songs might be played but in this case pretty much all of his suggestions were accepted by the band. I guess it's back to an oft-repeated adage that a fresh pair of ears will often hear something that the band may not; recording is very different to playing live as you're (hopefully) creating something that is potentially going to be listened to many times (and let's face it, will be around a long time after we're all gone!) whereas a live performance is just that i.e. over in the time that it takes to play. Sounds serious doesn't it? Well I suppose it is! That said I've got a really good feeling about these sessions - the band is playing well, Jim seems to be very easy to work with and no one that I've spoken to has a bad word to say about Perry Vale Studios or engineer Pat Collier. A good three days are in prospect - let's get on with it then...

10.27pm in South London.

So - day one is done. 
Guitars and amps in
the main studio room.

Just as we were about to start the first run through of the first song Segs turned to me and smiled - 'right, we're really doing it then'. I smiled back and said 'yes, yes we are' - not perhaps the wittiest reply that I've ever given but entirely accurate under the circumstances. Dave was in the drum booth (fairly obviously!) with myself and Segs in the main studio room and James and Pat in the control room - a 'rock' Ruts D.C. album (as opposed to a reggae or dub release) was indeed underway. Dave was playing his trusty Gretsch drum kit, Segs had bought along the Mark Bass amp that he'd bought while we were on tour in Germany and I'd plugged my Les Paul into the studio's Selmer Treble And Bass 50W amplifier (which in turn was plugged into a Marshall 4 x 12" cabinet isolated in another part of the studio so that the sound wouldn't bleed over onto the other microphones) and we were sounding good. Very good. That said it might have been a bit overambitious for us to start with 'Psychic Attack'; it's a fast song and since we were playing to a click track it required some serious
Drum booth in the background,
  bass on the right.
concentration. Also while Dave and Segs have done this sort of thing many many times I'm well behind them in the experience stakes and don't mind admitting it. It took us all a while to get used to the click track - I'm not actually sure that I 'got used to it' but I at least worked out a way to play to it - and as Segs and myself were only recording guide parts to be replaced later the drum track was the important part of proceedings; I think we've got a good one but we're going to listen again tomorrow and decide whether or not the last one recorded can be used.

Next up - 'Secondhand Child'. We've been performing this in various forms for over a year and so you might think that recording it would be reasonably straightforward, and indeed Dave got a great drum track down in only a few takes. Segs then overdubbed bass and a guide vocal before I started on the electric guitar parts. Generally speaking I'm not too bad at this sort of thing, but things were compounded somewhat by Sean turning up to record some footage for use in out current PledgeMusic campaign. Suddenly there seemed to be lots of people watching me and nerves began creeping in meaning that I maybe took longer over things than I might have liked, although plenty of good takes were recorded including a solo using a Maestro Universal Synthesiser System which Jim had bought along and which sounded ever bit as mad as I for one was hoping that it would. I'm not 100% sure that it'll make it to the final track but it certainly lightened the mood! Segs also added acoustic guitar (he came up with the original idea for the song that way so it seemed right that he played it) and Dave added percussion - 'Secondhand Child' is sounding very good indeed.
'Music Maestro please...'

We then turned our collective attention to the third song of the day, 'Surprise'. After running through it a couple of times Segs made the somewhat radical suggestion that Dave record the drum track without us playing along with him but with Segs on a vocal mic saying whereabouts they were in the song i.e. 'verse 1', 'chorus 1' etc. At best this might be described as 'unconventional' but amazingly it seemed to work and although we'll have a critical listen tomorrow I think it sounds great.
We finished 20 minutes before the allotted time of 8 o'clock (9 hour days starting at 11 am is very civilised don't you think?!?) so it was obviously time for a drink. The nearby Blythe Hill Tavern serves magnificent Guinness, and a couple of pints augmented by bags of peanuts were a most welcome end to our day. As we left a chap on a nearby table was bursting into song, with his friends either looking as though they wanted to join in (but perhaps significantly didn't) or that they wished that he would stop. It somehow seemed a shame to leave.  

Sunday 20th December, 10.47pm in South London.

A not-so fantastic Voyager.
Another day in the studio. I can't believe that I've just written that, after all it's only the second day. Mind you it's amazing just how 'at home' you can feel sometimes isn't it?
Today began with work on 'Surprise' after the drum track had passed a critical listen. This 'work' involved recording a lot - and I mean a lot - of guitar parts. It's interesting - we've been playing the song live for a few months now with only one guitar part (obviously!) but as previously mentioned the studio is a very different place to the stage, and suddenly there seems to be room for loads of the bloody things. There's been lots of doubling of parts and I doubt that everything that we've recorded will make it to the finished track - after all, I might come up with some more ideas... there was also bass and guide vocals from Segs, and an abortive attempt to use an overdubbed hi-hat part to trigger a Moog Voyager synthesiser which for whatever reason didn't want to work so phasing was used on the hi-hat instead. Even though I say so myself it all sounds terrific. 
Time for another song - after running through 'Tears On Fire' a few times we decided to leave that one until tomorrow and instead looked at 'Soft City Lights'. This featured a pre-recorded bass synth part prepared by Dave and Segs a few days earlier - this may or may not make it to the finished track but it was easy to play along with and we got a good drum take in no time. The 'finished' version included a section where the drums drop out and then build up again - this hadn't been rehearsed but was incorporated when Dave stopped because he thought that he'd made a mistake (he hadn't!) and we all though that it sounded so good it stayed in the track. Jim then overdubbed a piano onto the song (some relentlessly pounding chords that reminded us all of 'I'm Waiting For The Man' which can only be a good thing if you think about it) and Segs added the by now inevitable bass and guide vocals. Once again Sean shot some film, and Rhiannon came along to take some photos and to give me the rather bizarre news that she'd had a dream in which I'd been 'a one man version of Department S'. What can this mean? Oh and we went to The Blythe Hill Tavern again, but you probably guessed that we would. In the meantime it's tomorrow tomorrow, which means more recording. Good 

Sunday 21st December - except that it's after midnight so it's actually Monday 22nd. Oh well.

The third day of three, and as often happens the last day of sessions is often a bit, er, 'bitty'. Still good though...
Choose your weapon...

We began with some guitar parts for 'Psychic Attack' (more about that in a minute) and 'Soft City Lights'. This began life in the key of B major but in the songwriting slalom that followed it's found it's way to the 'new' key of E major, meaning that what was once a jangly guitar riff featuring open strings is now played with a capo at the fifth fret. This has made it all a bit more difficult to play (that's my excuse anyway!) but I got through it in the end - that said it's been suggested that we borrow a Rickenbacker 12-string and re-record it on that as that might give a more appropriate sound so we'll see what happens next on that one.
Next we started work on 'Golden Boy'. This is usually played by Segs and myself on 2 acoustic guitars and Dave on percussion - Segs recorded a guitar part by playing along to a drum loop made by Dave based on the feel of 'How Do You Sleep?' by John Lennon which seemed right in both tempo and feel for the song. He then recorded a guide vocal (as usual!) and James suggested that we consider putting strings on the track - with this in mind we decided to think about it (I've thought about it, it's a brilliant idea!) and in the meantime started the 7th 'we haven't quite finished this one yet' song 'Innocent'. Although more of a jam than a song at the moment we all agree that it's got a lot of potential so we recorded a few minutes of it to give us something to work with before the next sessions. We then returned to 'Tears On Fire' which hadn't quite worked the previous day but came together well today - most of the track is in the tricky time signature of 7/4 (well, I think that it's tricky!) which took a while to get hold of but went well in the end.
At this point our good friend and U.K. Subs guitarist Jet arrived - he'd been recording with Charlie and co. the previous week and so had thought he'd come down to say hello. Much jollity ensued, after which it was decided that we should listen to 'Psychic Attack' and see if anything else might be needed. Earlier in the day we'd deemed the drum track to be ok (I thought it had sounded great when it was recorded!) and so had overdubbed rhythm and solo guitars - it sounded good but needed to be madder... with this in mind we set up the studio's 1970s Marshall JMP 100W head and turned it up as James issued his instructions - 'you've already lost the gig because you're drunk and now someone's slipped you 3 Es - play it like you don't care about anything anymore...' 

The resulting cacophony received a round of applause from all in the control room. I wonder what it actually sounded like?

So that's it for now - studio days have been booked to record more new songs in February and there's work to do on these tracks in the meantime at various locations so next year should start with a bang...

Well that's what the scribbly notes say happened last month - work starts again soon!