Thursday, March 26, 2020

'Nobody told me there'd be days like these...'

Well I don't know about you (obviously!) but I seem to have rather more time on my hands than I was expecting to have at the moment. Maybe you have too? So what better time to (a) write one of those blog postings that I keep saying that I must get around to writing, and (b) play a game of Spot The Difference. Well, why not eh?

Here are two posters - the one on the left is for the first ever acoustic tour by (ahem!) up-and-coming young London dub rock band Ruts D.C., while the one on the right is for The Punk Rock Bowling Festival, which takes place every May in no lesser location than Las Vegas, USA. 

Now here are two more posters - the one on the left is once again for the first ever acoustic tour by (ahem!) up-and-coming young London dub rock band Ruts D.C., while the one on the right is once again for The Punk Rock Bowling Festival, which takes place every May in no lesser location than Las Vegas, USA.

So can you - yes, YOU! - spot the difference between them? Tricky isn't it?

Actually it's not very tricky at all is it? I must make the next competition more difficult...

I first started this blog all those years ago as an attempt to become more computer literate, to improve my typing skills - which if I remember rightly were pretty much non-existent at the time - and because I thought that it might be an interesting thing to do, not least as it gave me a way of documenting my increasingly unusual (and often rather obscure) attempts to play the guitar for a living. I gave it the impulsive title 'Leigh's Mad World Of Guitars' without very much thought; I've often wondered if I should change it - maybe one day I will - but it's been hard enough to find the time and if I'm honest the inclination to contribute to it over the last few years, let alone to wonder whether it's name should change. As previously discussed I tend to use Facebook for music-related stuff these days, and as a result the blog feels a little bit like something from another time in my life - which I suppose in many ways it is. Looking back through it I don't really know how I found the time to write as much as I did in the early days, although maybe a more interesting question is to consider what I used to do with all those thoughts before I started writing them down here... but if ever there was a Mad World it's the one that we have 'suddenly' found ourselves in now.

Coronavirus. Was there ever a time when it wasn't the most used word in the English language? It's hard to remember isn't it? And how about terms like 'self-isolating' and 'social distancing'? From people saying things like 'I don't know what all the fuss is about, it's only a cold' to the same folk crossing the road with a look of abject terror on their face if they see anyone within several yards of them has taken a few weeks, but it's certainly happened. As I write this all restaurants, pubs and clubs are closed and gatherings are limited to two people - that's certainly something that I never thought that I'd ever type! All but non-essential shops are closed, the streets are as empty as they are on Christmas Day - well, they certainly are around these parts - and with many people working from home the World seems a very different place to the one we all now only dimly remember from just a couple of weeks or so ago. Supermarket shelves are empty, people are fighting over bottles of hand sanitiser and toilet rolls are suddenly the rarest thing on Earth. I was in the Post Office around the corner from me the other day, and when one of the lads behind the counter mentioned that they would be receiving a delivery later in the day I heard a voice from behind me say 'I'll 'ave 200 of 'em'. It was a giant, not-particularly friendly-looking man, and he wasn't smiling - now that's an upset stomach... all this panic buying has of course resulted in shortages of all sorts of things, which isn't too clever from the point of view of, say, an NHS worker who can only visit shops at a certain time of day due to shift commitments, or an unemployed or elderly person with limited financial resources at certain times of the month. Still, I'm sure that doesn't bother Mr. 200 Toilet Rolls, or indeed any of the other blockheads who work on a similarly self-centred level to him.

As for me - all gigs are fairly obviously postponed or in some cases cancelled altogether, my work at Balcony Shirts is on hold and as a self-employed person I've long since stopped joking about bankruptcy. I began the last blog posting with the words 'as Ruts D.C. ready themselves for a return to showbusiness' - well, that seems a very long time ago now too. We've got things to do - there's a live album from last year's '40 Years Of The Crack' tour coming out soon, there are songs to write for a projected 2021 release (I do like a bit of unashamed optimism, don't you?!) and more, but who knows when we'll next be able to get together? We're looking at sending song ideas to each other via The Internet - time I finally learned how to work GarageBand properly then... we were due to be playing a Rock Against Racism show in Brighton this coming weekend with another one in Brixton early next month so these are now being rescheduled as are quite a few other shows. And we're once again accompanying The Stranglers around Britain on their 'Final Full U.K. Tour' in October and November - tickets are selling well, and surely we'll all be back to 'normal' by then? There are also dates for Alvin GibbsThe Disobedient Servants and The Slogans that need changing - but when do we reschedule anything for? How long is our new Mad World going to be around for? And how much madder is it going to get? 

Hmm... the answers aren't there, but the questions most certainly are. 

Wherever you are, stay safe and stay cool. We'll meet again, don't know where don't know when - but I know we'll meet again, some sunny day...

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Ruts D.C. European Tour, November / December 2019

As Ruts D.C. ready themselves for a return to showbusiness here's a look back at last year's November / December European tour... 

The stage is set - Das Bet, Frankfurt, November 29th 2019

Friday 29th November, 10.30 am, Room 21 of the Goethe Hotel, Frankfurt

'She said... I know what it's like to be dead...' I like The Beatles. I really like The Beatles. I mean I really like The Beatles. Sometimes I don't listen to very much else, and this is definitely one of those times. And today I really really like 'Revolver'. I've got something I can laugh about. Good day, sunshine.
Actually it's quite a grey day outside, but at least it's not raining. It was raining last night when we arrived at Das Bett in Frankfurt to load our gear in for our gig there, and it was still raining when we left there 7 or so hours later. At least that didn't stop a very enthusiastic audience coming to the show, but more about that in a minute. 
We - Ruts D.C. - are on tour in Europe. 12 shows in 12 days, 7 of them supporting The Stranglers in some very impressive venues, the rest club shows with us headlining. It's good to be back on the road (maaan!) although the road is long, with many-a winding turn - well, it certainly was yesterday as we travelled the 360-odd miles from Paris to Frankfurt, and it's the best part of 500 miles from Stuttgart to Bologna tomorrow. A long and winding road indeed.

But enough of the increasingly awkward quotes from not-particularly cool songs - how did we get here?

'Made it Ma,
top of the World...'
On Thursday evening we - tour manager Liam, Duds the driver and Dave, Segs and myself - stayed in the St. Albans B & B in Dover; this set us up for the 8.45 am ferry to Calais and the subsequent drive to gay Paris where the rain did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm at seeing our name (literally) up in lights at The Olympia. It's impossible not to be aware of the heritage of the place - from Edith Piaf to Jimi Hendrix and from Jacques Brel to David Bowie via Iggy Pop and indeed The Beatles, they've all graced the stage. And what a fantastic venue it is, from the drive-in backstage area to the astonishing foyer it lived up to it's legend with ease. Our breathless 45 minute support set started with 'Something That I Said', ended with 'Psychic Attack' and went down well with all concerned, although nothing quite prepares you for a shirtless Jean-Jacques Burnel coming into the dressing room to ask how the show went. 'Great' replied Segs cheerily, 'everyone said that I have a better physique than you'. 'Well, they would' smiled JJ. A good start to the tour.

And last night, the first of our 'solo' shows - a 90 minute roar through most of 'The Crack', a fair bit of 'Music Must Destroy' and all points in between. Das Bett is a excellent club, the audience was up for it from the first song - great stuff all round. 

Right - it's Stuttgart tonight so it's time for a shower now - on the road again...    

Monday 2nd December, 12.07 pm, carriage 5 seat 33 on the 11.45 am train from Rome to Turin 

Well. You never know do you? It goes to show you never can tell.

So there we were, less than 10 minutes away from The Orion, looking forward to another gig with The Stranglers and bemoaning the fact that we were on the Rome ring road rather than passing by The Colosseum when a previously unheard and not-even-vaguely nice sound came from somewhere beneath the bus. It was a kind of grinding noise. And as if by magic we stopped moving, and didn't start again. Bugger. I'd just replied to a message from Jim the Stranglers's drummer asking where we were and if we were ok by saying something like 'see y'all in 10 minutes' - as I say, you never can tell can you? 
backstage at Goldmarks. Weird 

There are no good places to break down are there? This one could have been worse, but not much - as vehicles careered past us (and, strangely, the odd pedestrian - what on Earth were they doing there?) Duds had a hi-vis vest on and a red warning triangle out in no time while Liam went into a not-inconsiderable amount of mobile phone action. To cut a long-ish story short-ish, a very nice chap called Maximilian made three journeys to get the band, Liam and all our gear to the venue while the ever-heroic Duds stayed with the broken bus - he and it eventually got towed to the venue around 10 pm. We just about got set up and soundchecked before the doors opened at half past seven; we roared through our set as Liam made phone calls, sent emails and generally worked his magic on what until that point was looking like a distinctly unmagical situation while we played our show. We ended up staying on the outskirts of Rome (still nowhere near Colosseum - bah!) and we're now on the afore-mentioned train while Duds and Liam are in a hired van hoping to get our gear and baggage to Turin in time for tonight's show. Crazy times - and it had all been going so well... a great night for us at Goldmarks in Stuttgart - where we played a slightly different set to the previous night as there were people attending both shows) and a splendid support show in Bologna (where it was great to catch up with Marz from The Valentines and his lady Angela) had set us up for a good night in Rome. We played well - perhaps very well given the circumstances - but it was a very fraught time. In a effort to clear my head and to have a break from the backstage wheeling and dealing I went out to watch some of The Stranglers's set where I met some people from Coventry who had come all the way over to Italy to see us and who didn't actually know that The Stranglers were playing. Amazing. As I say, you never can tell - let's see what tonight brings...

Wednesday 4th December, 11.10 am leaving for Cologne

It's misty. Oh. ok, it's foggy. Actually that's a point - when does mist become fog? For that matter when does fog become mist? Hmm...

So here we are in our 'new' van, and very nice it is too. I believe that it comes courtesy of The Rumjacks via our friend Mark Sabin who, when he saw various Facebook posts detailing our plight in Rome contacted various people on our behalf. What a splendid chap - I really must get him a drink next time I see him.

When last we spoke Dave, Segs and myself were on a train bound for Turin. I spent much of my journey hemmed into my window seat by a (presumably) Italian goddess asleep in the aisle seat next to me. I don't think that she looked at me once during the journey - actually thinking about it she probably looked at me once and then decided not to look at me again. Ah well.

After arriving in Turin we took a taxi to The Hotel Galant where we managed 30-odd minutes of relative calm before taking another taxi to The Teatro Della Concordia just after 6 o'clock - after grabbing a bite to eat the call came through that our gear would be arriving any minute. Sure enough as the clock struck seven times the indefatigable Duds and the ever-exuberant Liam arrived, giving us 30 minutes to get the gear in, set up and soundchecked before the doors opened. Once again all hands were on deck, once again we somehow got it all done. It's amazing what you can do when you have to isn't it?
Live at Lucerne - thanks Martin!

When we started our show at 8.15 there must have been, ooh, 30-odd people in a venue that must hold at least 20 times that amount; when we finished 45 minutes later there were probably a couple of hundred more. They saw a show that for the second night running could very easily have not happened at all but which once again turned out to be better than it perhaps had any right to be. And last night we played Sedal in Lucerne - Martin and his team made us all very welcome (he designs the most wonderful posters as you can see here) and we played a very good show to a very enthusiastic audience. I do wish that they wouldn't let people smoke in venues though - they did ask people to stop while we played and put the air conditioning on but I suppose we've all got used to playing in clearer rooms these days. Sadly our stage fans had to be left in Rome due to lack of space in the van so it was bloomin' hot on stage - hopefully we'll be able to buy some more today. First World Problems eh?

Tonight we're in Cologne with The Backyard Band - we played with them last year and I really liked them so I'm looking forward to seeing them again tonight. We then rejoin The Stranglers for gigs in Amsterdam and Hamburg before journeying North for our own show in Husum - no, I don't know it either - then finish the tour in Berlin on Sunday. This means that we're now over halfway through our '12-shows-in-12-days' stint - I feel tired but not exhausted, and given the madness that has befallen us on the way everyone is in high spirits and pretty good shape. Let's hope that things stay that way.

Friday 6th December, 10.43 am, on the Amsterdam ring road

'Headache? Tense nervous headache? Take Anadin.'

Do you remember that advert? It's funny what comes into your mind sometimes isn't it? Well, it's funny what comes into my mind... 

Stage passes for the tour.
I could probably get a
few bob for these couldn't I?
I've got a headache at the moment, although not necessarily of the tense, nervous kind. It may be at least in part attributable to drinking until 2 am in Dan Murphy's Irish Bar near the venue. Or maybe I've just got a headache. In which case nothing acts faster than Anadin. Or something. Still 'twas a great night last night - The Milkweg is a classic venue, and with the show a sellout it was full when we started at 8 o'clock and even fuller (is that good English? It's not is it?) when we finished 40 minutes later. It was absolutely packed for The Stranglers, or it certainly was for the last part of their set, when I found myself wedged against the bar at the back of the hall - not the worst place to find yourself, although it did get a bit pricey... back to our show where, to continue the 'First World Problems' theme, both Segs and myself had odd moments with plectrums. I dropped mine during our first song ('Something That I Said' - we've started all the Stranglers support shows with this song, a good choice I think) and only just managed to get one out of my back pocket in time for the guitar solo (as I say, first world problems...) whereas Segs somehow cut his thumb opening a can of beer near the end of our set - as often happens if you cut your hand it bled profusely, although as he put it, 'it helped my plectrum stay on my hand'. On seeing it after the show JJ just calmly asked him 'did you hit someone?' A fair question I suppose. or certainly a fair question if you're Jean-Jacques Burnel. As I say, a splendid evening all round - unlike the previous evening at Helios 37 in Cologne where my amplifier decided not to work. Well that's not strictly true - it was fine during our soundcheck, to such an extent that our new friend Chris the sound engineer complemented me on how good it sounded ('at last, someone who knows how to work an amplifier'. What a nice chap!) And it sounded great after the show, when I decided rather nervously to try some trouble-shooting and it worked with no problem whatsoever. It was during the gig that it didn't play the game - total silence is never a good start to a show. Fortunately we had a spare, but it took me a few songs to get going - overall not a bad gig, but our standards are high, and we felt that we'd dropped back a bit from the previous night in Lucerne. Still we were definitely back on form last night, and we're in Hamburg tonight which is usually a good one for us. Oh and before I forget, The Backyard Band were excellent. Check 'em out, you won't be disappointed!

Right - time for a sleep to get rid of this headache. Hopefully.

Sunday 8th December, 10.29 am, leaving Husum
The obligatory 'on the road' photo -
going from Italy into Switzerland

Well as I said earlier I hadn't heard of Husum before, but what a great place. We arrived early afternoon yesterday and so had a bit of time to look around, which of course involved the triumphant sighting of a Guinness sign (oh yes!) and a meal in an Italian restaurant (implausibly attractive waitresses!) before heading out of town to The Paulsen Hotel where I managed an afternoon nap - rock 'n'roll eh? We returned to The Speicher to set up around 6 pm - it's a great club with friendly people, which set the scene for a top evening. Perhaps surprisingly it took a while to get going; maybe there was a bit of a language barrier or possibly it was one of those venues that people go to whether the know the band who's playing or not - for example Segs saying that it was Malcolm Owen's birthday was met by almost total indifference and indeed silence. Still things picked up and with much dancing and merriment it was very much a case of 'all's well that ends well'. And there were more first world problems to contend with, this time for your humble narrator when my mobile phone went dead. As in 'dead' i.e. not working, black screen, the lot. It turned out that the battery went from around half charge to 0% in a few seconds - when you get these things they don't tell you that they don't actually work do they?

The previous night we supported The Stranglers at Fabrik in Hamburg - no delay in getting going there, as we left the stage to a reception that many headline bands would have been happy with. Great stuff - and talking of headline bands, The Stranglers were excellent, although as I have observed on a number of occasions in these hallowed pages, they usually are.

So - Berlin tonight, the last night of the tour. I really must work out how many miles we've travelled. I must also work out what on Earth I'm going to do with myself when all of this is over.

Tuesday 12th December, 10.49 am at home

It's always weird, coming home after a tour.

You feel tired... empty... or something.

I've just worked that we travelled over 3,500 miles in the buses which, leaving out the 600 mile flight home, means that we averaged over 250 miles a day. No wonder I feel a bit... something or other...
Great photo eh? Thanks Rikki!

But what a show to end on - Huxleys in Berlin used to be Neue Welt, which saw appearances from The Clash, Jimi Hendrix and (gulp!) Adolf Hitler among many others. And since Hendrix also played at The Paris Olympia it means that we began and ended the tour on a stage previously graced by The Experience. That's a nice thing to be able to type... 'twas a great gig to end on, with 'H-Eyes' making it's first and therefore only appearance on the tour - it was a requested by Rikki from The Stranglers road crew, who took some excellent pictures of us throughout the tour. The Stranglers were brilliant, Vom and Andi from Die Toten Hosen came along as did Mutti and Monica from Muttis Bookings, and quite a few of us ended up in The Franken Bar until the small hours drinking far too much - as I say, a great gig to end on. 

Hopefully there will be many more shows with The Stranglers - it's a great double bill that works so well on many levels for both the band and the audience -but in the meantime Ruts D.C. have got work to do. We've got a live album to put together and songs to write for a projected new release - but first I've got to do two weeks worth of washing. More First World Problems eh? When are we back on tour?!?

Ruts Dc, Husum, Germany, December 7th 2019