Thursday, May 21, 2020

"......and Stig sued himself accidentally."


During the current unpleasantness, many things have been put on hold. The Neighbourhood Dogs, for example, should have been entering the final phases of tweaking our next single for release, but instead we find ourselves antisocially distanced – flung to the five corners of the unfashionable end of East Angular and bereft of one to one (or two, or three, or six) interaction.

Another consequence of the lockdown has been that dreams are, apparently, more realistic to us than before as our minds take advantage of the extra space they’ve been afforded to stretch their legs, settle down into a comfy armchair, and explore their surroundings. Some of these metaphorical devices may not work togeher quite as one might hope, but at least there’s hope. And so it was with no little anxiety that I awoke from a fevered dream – not the one in which The Present Mrs. Kirk had only clipped one leg of the labradoodle, so everyone thought she was a pirate* - but to the realisation that in my sleep I had been finessing our new song, but had woken up with another running through my head. I was literally in a Nashville State of Mind state of mind.

To explain further, we - Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs - have been working on a lovely ballad, to which I have contributed a simple slide guitar motif, much as one might find on the more tasteful end of the East Angliacana thirty second taster intro scene but which, importantly, I suddenly thought that I might have lifted wholesale from the exquisite Nashville State of Mind by one Tony James Shevlin which – even more crucially – I had played on at a session for the BBC and which was currently doing the rounds of social media again after it had popped up in both of our timeline ‘memories’. Rightly so – it’s a wonderful song, one of Shev’s best, and I love it dearly both for its sentiment and its lack of sentimentality. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to focus on the chord sequences of two apparently unrelated songs before you’ve even switched off the alarm and let the dog out in the morning, but it’s a disconcerting process.

Firstly I had to ascertain whether the chords were related, in the same ballpark, or even playing the same sport. I imagine that George Harrison went through a very similar process off the back of that whole My Sweet Lord malarkey before he released This Song, which dealt with that exact process and although sounding like something he might have knocked off in his sleep (and probably did, to be honest). I saw an old video from Saturday Night Live recently in which he and his chums seemed to be having a whale of a time, but that doesn’t make the track any more memorable. Maybe that was the idea. At the time he was hanging out with Eric Idle, whose whole Rutles gig was built around making something similar-to-but-not-quite, and so when songwriter-in-residence Neil Innes found that Johnny and the Moondogs-come-lately Oasis had been third-guessing his work with their Whatever, it must have come as a pleasant, and financially rewarding, surprise.

I remembered that at an early rehearsal of our song someone had commented that it may have shared some songwriterly DNA with a previous effort that many of the group had been involved with, called Risk. I comforted myself with the thought that at least I’d co-written that, although anyone who remembers the case of Jarndyce, Jarndyce and Zaentz vs. Fogerty will be aware that this is a tricky defence to mount in the face of a determined legal team with dollar signs in their sights. Also, that was me playing del Amitri’s Driving With The Brakes On really badly, so that was never going to help.
 Eventually, I worked out in my head that although the initial chords shared some of the songwriterly essence to which we all aspire (the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift – we’ve all done it), Shev’s intro - which I had dutifully transcribed and learned – was more complex, melodically more satisfying, tonally appropriate, and well beyond a legal matter.

No. It was from Torn, by Natalie Imbruglia.


*Sylvie, not Mrs. K. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

Hovellian.


I have been recorded many times in the past. In fact the other day I was trying to work out how many tapes and CDs we have amassed between us in Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs, but it started getting over-complicated when I couldn’t decide whether The World Service five-song demo that Me, Wendell and Gibbon did at Spaceward counted as one example or three. Nevertheless, between us we’ve been in church halls, sports halls, Baptist chapels, converted pig pens, garden sheds, cellars, caravans, twenty four track custom built digital facilities, radio stations, and – that one time – the BBC Studios at (in?) Maida Vale and come out with some sort of reproduction of our – or at least ‘a’ - performance.

We made a decision at the start of the latest cycle of the seasons to write and record something from scratch, thereby avoiding all of that tedious “Well that’s not what you did live...” entrenchment that can sometimes occur when you’re trying to recreate a performance in the studio and it turns out you've been playing an A minor  against a C major root. You might be able to get away with that sort of shizzle on a Friday night at The Coggeshall Beer Festival, but the pristine digital modern studio will highlight that missing relative major as clear as the nose on your face. Happy is the producer who can work up a track all on his own, fly in a vocal recorded in a hotel room and held somewhere in the ether, whack on a bit of autotune and have it on the kids’ iPhones before their parents even realise what Grimmeh thinks of it on a Friday teatime. Yes, I have been listening to Radio One in the car, how could you tell?

Our de Facto producer – Fiddly – has been patiently recording various contributions to the sum of our parts over the past few weeks, building from a simple guitar and vocal demo which I put down to create a canvas which if not entirely blank*, certainly left room for everyone else to do a bit of colouring in without having to worry about going over the lines. It’s not like we had to rewind the tape over and over again in order to get down the perfect take – we’re not in the eighties, for goodness’ sake – but we thought we might make it slightly easier for the rest of the group by ensuring that it was at least in time.

You may or may not be familiar with the idea of The Click Track. This is the metronomic beat which was initially put on recordings to make sure the drummer played in time without speeding up or slowing down** before industrious recording engineers with one eye on the clock (and the other on the attendant studio bill) decided to largely replace the latter with the former, thereby coincidentally saving a fortune on vacuuming fragments of Vic Firth 5As off the studio carpet. I’ve never been very good with click tracks, and after a couple of run throughs with the default Cubase metronome fighting against my uniquely rhythmic stress and weave approach to strumming the backing track, we decided that alternate methods of keeping in good order were required. Cutting the odd extra beat out of the two inch tape with a razor was no longer an option, and neither was slowing down the tapes by judicious application of the tape brake.

This is where Fiddly’s approach to accomodating studio kit came in extraordinarily handy. There is a long and noble tradition of repurposing surfeit gear at The Hovel – essentially anything which fellow recording folk believe is obsolete, surplus, outmoded, outdated or just overly complicated to operate will be gratefully hoovered up and stored until required with the result that he has accumulated quite the collection of equipment which, with the cycle that these things inevitably follow, has become highly desirable. It’s a strange combination of classic tech and Heath Robinson invention at the business end of the studio complex, which is where we now found ourselves.
 
One reasonably modern thing he had acquired was one of these new-fangled*** loop pedal thingies they’re filling Chantry Park with these days and after a flash of inspiration he scuttled off to the main house to track it down and one extravagant unboxing and a crash course in stomping in time later, we had a chunka-chunka**** rhythm perfectly suited to the syncopation required for a succesful take.

Later we added a guide vocal, a few tracks of backing vocal - building, building, gently building. “I’ve got a proper pop shield” said Fiddly from behind the control room glass as I sang into another vintage mic through some indeterminate gauze stretched across a coat hanger “...but this works, and so much better.”
 
You don’t want to know how long those tights have been on there” he chuckled in my headphones.
How long?” I asked good-humouredly.
What did I just say?”



*One of my favourite jokes from the eighties was that the real name of the bass player in Linx – nicknamed ‘Sketch’ - was ‘Preliminary Drawing’. Obviously the only correct response to this was to reply “You’re lying.”

**You don’t find classic album bands like Bucks Fizz wang on about this sort of thing, do you? [checks earpiece] Oh...

***Circa 2004.

****Technical term.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Print The Legend...


I've, ahem, dropped a new compilation of the blog (to buy, click in the links section) - I believe that's what the modern media folk say. this is the introduction, written by m'learned colleague Shev, who appears in the book almost as much as I do.

 I first met Shane Kirk in 1997 when I auditioned for his Beatles specialist band The Star Club. I was feeling very pleased with myself until he dryly informed me that I was the only applicant.
In the intervening years we have shared many stages together. When I have a harebrained musical idea, he is most often the first person I call. “Do you want to help me start a songwriters' night?” “Shall we start a band where we pretend to be an American family playing Country songs?” The answer is always yes.
There have been many books written about the goings on and antics of rock stars. This is not one of them. However, this is one in a series of books that you may enjoy if you want to know both the struggle of writing, recording and performing your own songs with very little prospect of retiring on the proceeds of these endeavours, as well as spending your weekends working in a covers band, playing songs you wished you'd written, in pubs you wished you weren't in.
Someone had to write this book; I'm glad it's Shane Kirk.
My name crops up in a few of these stories. I look forward to more musical mayhem with the author. And then reading about them...

He also very kindly supplied me some notes. In the immortal and probably entirely fictional words of Salieri...
  

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Boy Looked at Johnny.

 
Jimmie Nicol, Alan White, that kid who stepped in when Keith Moon fell off his stool* at a The Who gig. The list of stand-in and dep drummers is long, illustrious and – like the road to hell** – paved with good intentions. To add this roll of honour we meet today to celebrate one Linda Stix who, upon hearing that we in The Picturehouse Big Band were one drummer short of quintet agreed to step up and learn our entire set, which as regular readers will know has been laboriously compiled over (literally) many decades of pop history and lovingly curated to the point where we daren’t listen to the originals any more*** in case we become distracted from our core mission of playing the songs in a form of which a pub audience would probably still recognise them, even without the aid of the Shazam (TM) app.

In return, Johnny-out-of-Five Mile High said that he’d guest on a couple of songs, and we learned a handful of theirs (FMH), which meant that for at least half a dozen numbers I would, essentially, be the guitarist in Five Mile High, for Linda is their drummer and The Other Guitarist, in a Clark Kent-esque twist of happenstance, is also their bass player. At one point, to emphasise the wile of the situation he takes off his glasses. Turns out that’s just because they fogged up when he came in from the car park, but you get the gist.

By about the Thursday before the gig I realise with mounting horror that simply recognising the titles of songs doesn’t, technically, count as knowing them****, especially when you have the added responsibility of not being the one who fucks it up for everyone else. (This is me having to (re)learn four songs, three of which I’ve played before by the way. Now multiply that by seven to get some idea of what Linda’s been going through). Hence there is an evening on the sofa with YouTube, a search engine tuned to those guitar tab sites you can get on the electric internet these days, and a Squier Telecaster (with individual saddle bridges and the three way selector switch rewired so that you can run the pick ups in series as well as in parallel. But I digress). In the olden days, of course, you’d be stuck in front of a turntable getting progressively worsening RSI from all that moving the tone arm backwards and forwards on the record, but we have crowdsourcing and the associated resources to cut and paste the same basic errors on to multiple sites these days, which saves a lot of time. And who doesn’t relish the idea of playing Judas Priest’s Breaking the Law in a non-ironic fashion, which is something that comes up less often than you’d like, but more often than you’d think.

Once in The Heart of The Stow***** we are reassured by the ever-avuncular presence of TOG, who assures us that he will be keeping a paternal eye on things****** and providing prompts and cues as required. This is a huge relief to the rest of us, who are frankly often never quite sure where we are during any given middle eight, or what we came in here for in the first place. Our default position in case of any navigation errors is to turn around and glare at whoever is playing bass at the time, which is a handy trope with which to engage. It also helps share the blame around a bit, however as it turns out, no-one demands a Paddington stare, and none of the audience need recourse to Shazam (TM) at any time, such is the diligence that Linda has paid in both listening to the original versions and also in taking note of our quirks and extensions when it comes to arrangements. Admittedly there was a point where I thought my kidneys were going to be dissolved slowly until they filtered out of my body in a coagulant mess, but it turned out that The Bass Player had just stepped on his octave divider pedal by mistake, and I’m sure the foundations of the building are sturdy enough to withstand a couple of verses of that. There was also another passing moment of disbelief and uncertainty, but that’s what being charged £3.20 for a pint of lime and soda will do for you.

The post-show playlist brings up Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion – one of The Drummer’s favourite tracks to play. I remember to send him a text to the gig in which he is currently engaged or – more likely, as we are – packing up in the rain after. “Happy Birthday” I type, two-fingered. “You’re fired” {smiley face}.




Photo credit by friend of the band Claire Woodbridge. Ironically, you can’t see Linda or Johnny in this one.


*One of The Other Guitarist’s favourite jokes goes “Can I help push your stool back in?” “Well, you could buy me dinner first...” kerrtisshhhh

**Presumably that’s the one Chris Rea drives home for Christmas on.

***They later became The New Originals. I know – one paragraph in and three footnotes already. I’m on fire today.

****A handy aides-memoire for any potential audience members who fancy offering to help us out by having a go anytime soon.

*****Coincidentally also the title of an unreleased Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe demo from the 1990 bootleg Yesoteric.

******I know – there’s a whole complex uncle/parent thing going on there. I’m not sure about it myself to be honest.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

"What About That!?"


To the Theatre of Legends!* The Stadium of Light!** The Arena of Dreams!*** Actually, the second of those epithets is not entirely without foundation, as we have two sets of lighting rigs aboard the good ship Picturehouse this evening, as well as a sturdy PA system, of which sound engineer-du-soir Pat is attaching microphones to The Drummer’s kit even as I tune up. I express mild surprise that a venue of this capacity warrants such wanton frippery. “It’s so I don’t have to hit them so hard” he explains, inserting the second of his earplugs**** “Let the microphone do the work, that’s what I say.”

He may, indeed, have a point. As The Bass Player and I confer over half time refreshments, the sound does indeed seem to have an air of clarification about it. It is pleasing to be able to reflect on a notably good performance after so many years in harness. I adjourn to use the facilities. “Yeah, come in tomorrow, there’s a really good band on – I’ll pick you up” one patron is enthusiastically recruiting his companion, in the stall. I silently insert my own italics.
 
We are not ones for resting on our laurels, however. This evening’s programme features not only a first, but a second introduction of completely new material (to us) – one of the songs a mere thirty one years in gestation and the other, a Kinks b-side. For us, the former is pretty much like plucking something from the top forty although in doing our homework we realise both that time flies and that – curious as it sounds to the post-Millenial ear, once upon a time Michael Stipe could have passed for a young and vibrant Stewart Lee*****. It seems to go well, and there’s an extra tidy three minutes right there (the first set runs a tidy hour and ten as it is).

Sadly, it is upon more familiar material that I take a tumble. You’d be hard pushed to find a band that doesn’t do a version of My Sharona, in my experience, and so it’s a handy go-to when comparing like with unlike. Last time three fifths of the band decided to do a chorus of Tom Robinson’s Up Against The Wall in lieu of an actual guitar solo, which might have been a good idea this time round. I couldn’t even get away with describing it as a free jazz atonal exploration. Someone suggested I do it on kazoo next time.
With our brutal touring schedule being what it is I’ll now have to wait until the election after this one before being able to get it out of my system. Still, April’s not that far off when you think about it.

The Drummer is considering our dearth of bookings. “Maybe we could get a few at somewehere where there’s room for us?” he ponders. “We could give them a list of who we play and get them to buy into that?”
“The Waterboys?” - I adopt the role of both prospective entertainer and interlocutor.
“No, we don’t do the one you might have heard of.”
“Travis?”
“The only song they didn’t play on that last tour.”
“REM?”
“Nope, not the one with the mandolin, I’m afraid.”
The Drummer reflects.
“I’ll tell you what though. If there was band that played Tiger Feet – and only Tiger Feet – all night, I’d join it in a heartbeat.”

 

The updated Picturehouse Big Band Spotify play list of songs is here. Unlike those Top of the Pops albums of the early seventies, these recordings are most definitely performed by the original artists.


*The Pickerel.
**Nope, really – it’s The Pickerel.
***There’s no dressing this up, it really is The Pickerel.
****One in each ear. He’s not a freak.
*****”That Michael stipe’s let himself go...” etc etc

Sunday, September 29, 2019

I've Looked at Crowds from Both sides Now

 
I was involved in an online discussion this week after someone posted in a music forum asking what the good folk of the internet thought was a reasonable amount of money for a covers band to ask for if performing for two hours. As you can imagine, the responses were measured, responsible and thoughtful to a tee. No, of course they bloody weren’t. Digressions included the suggestion that covers bands were the work of Satan, why anyone would want to play to an audience of people who buy their music in Tesco in the first place, and how music is a gift which should be freely offered and lovingly accepted. I’m paraphrasing, of course, apart from that one about the so-called Tesco audience, or ‘Clubcard Man’ as I like to call him[1].

Now, I actually have some sympathy for the former position, in that if you search in the press archive of my career[2] you can find an interview in which I express basically the same opinion. A local heavyweight on the band scene had a quiet word with me at the time and I accepted his reasoning and position without necessarily agreeing with it. You could that sort of thing back then[3], before all this electronic malarkey made it easier for people with no experience, knowledge or common sense to opine endlessly about stuff they know nothing about – that sort of “I don’t understand it and so it isn’t a thing” attitude. The sort of people who pooh-pooh the idea of Moon landings, or Beatles remasters.

I don’t want to tell your business, but I’ve seen a few things in my time, and so I feel it is only fair to share with you my wisdom and experience, gleaned over the course of, oh, about the last two weeks, as it happens.

The Pub Band.

Scroll back far enough and you will find the very first entry on this blog, which details a trip out to a provincial town, the consumption of a KFC and some interaction with the locals. Flash forward (checks, sighs) thirteen years and the process is alarmingly similar. Some of the set list is even the same. Only this week I pointed out that when we started playing 5ive’s “Keep On Movin’” it was in the charts. Since then they’ve had time to split up, reform (twice), collaborate with Brian May and release four (four!) Greatest Hits albums – that’s one more than their actual album albums. Whereas we...well, if our mission is, as some online commentators believe, to strangle the nascent indie scene in it’s birth pangs, we’re not doing a very good job. As I write we are a week away from Sound City Ipswich, a multi-venue celebration of original talent. I, on the other hand, am watching a shirtless man in a pub car park explain that people are afraid of him. It’s not all glamour in this game, I can tell you. Apparently I should be doing this exclusively for the sheer joy of making music and basking in the glow generated by the shine in people’s eyes as they look on fondly. I reflect on this as I drive home to pick up the case of leads that I have forgotten to pack earlier[4], watching the fuel gauge slide inexorably into the pink. Maybe if I smile at it, it’ll refill itself?

TOP TIP: The idiot check is your friend. Think “What would an idiot leave behind..?”
 
The Hired Hand.

I am required and requested to attend, at Mr. Shevlin’s behest, a gathering of The Chancers – a combo assembled in order to better promote a selection of his recorded catalogue in the live performance arena. I am to play rhythm guitar, keep my mouth shut (he’s heard me sing) and not trip over the furniture. He has sent me the prospective set list on Spotify – in the olden days he’d have had to put a cassette in the post and fax me the chords[5] – so I can play along with it in the comfort of my own home before we get together and he can let me know that they’ve changed the key of most of the songs and can I play bass on these three? Nevertheless, he buys me lunch after practise on at least two occasions and lets my dog on his sofa while we run through the songs until we drop. At the gig itself, since I’m also playing in the other group on the bill, I cunningly disguise myself by wearing a different shirt and a hat, thereby melding seamlessly into the background until people hardly even notice I’m there. That guy who said I looked like something Shev had found by the side of the road and brought back from America aside, that is.

TOP TIP: You don’t realsie how much heat is expelled through that bare bit at the back of your head until you put a hat on it. Bring a spare shirt.

The Original Band.

Once you’ve admitted to writing the songs, you really have to own them. And sing them, and play them – frequently all at the same time. Also the phrase “This is a new one” is often redundant in that for many of your audience – if you are lucky enough to have one in the first place – they’re all new. This is also why many people don’t like going to see bands that they haven’t heard, or even heard of, because they don’t want to take the chance that they might not like it. It’s a bit like Morris Dancing, or incest[6]. We are lucky enough to have an open venue willing to put us on (once the pre-theatre dining crowd has cleared out), a supportive local radio DJ or two, and since there are seven of us in the band any venue that we play in looks like it’s getting a good crowd in early doors, at least up until we get up on stage, at which point it tends to look as if there are now many more free tables than there were before. Three of us were in a pub in Stowmarket playing ‘Take It On The Run’ last week, and now here we are doing three part harmonies on a song called ‘Easy Money’ which its author wryly introduces as being “...about being in a band.” Mr. Wendell takes the second verse. “Jimmy Boy sells used cars, but the owners never know...” and I silently fill in my response “His fairies keep him sober for the day.” I don’t know why, it’s not even the same melody, but it’s stuck there now. I think that’s why they don’t let me sing other people’s stuff. Toward the end of the set there is a lengthy slow ballad. “Are we emoting?” asks La Mulley. “We are” I reply firmly. “This song has been played twice on local radio in the past two weeks” I announce. “Which is once more than ‘Down By The Jetty’, and if you know anything about Radio Suffolk that’s quite the achievement.” It’s also a testament and tribute to the goodwill of broadcasters in the field who are willing to play a six minute track by an unsigned band, and without whom we’d all be culturally worse off. I mean, you can’t even Morris Dance to it. To close, we unplug and array ourselves amongst the audience and play an acoustic song. Luckily there are some free tables at the front. “Thanks for taking us on” I say later as we’re being paid[7]. “No worries, we’ve had a good night” she says.
TOP TIP: Be yourself. There’s already one of everybody else. Ironic, I know, coming from someone who spends some of his gig time pretending to be Kevin Cronin.

The Singer-Songwriter.

“Do you know anyone who could do a twenty five minute set to open the show” came the question from a local impressario. “Yes” I thought to myself “I bloody do!” Back around the time I used to get interviewed by the local paper and asked to give my thoughts on whether covers bands were a good thing or not I used to do that sort of thing at the drop of a hat. I used to wear a hat in those days you know. I volunteered myself and was pleased to be offered the commission. Now then - if you thought standing on stage playing some songs you’d made up out of your own head was a nervy prospect in company, imagine doing it all on your own, just you and a guitar (or piano, or accordian, or triangle – although songs performed on the latter do tend to be all in the same key). If you’re particularly intent on making things easier for yourself, and have been inspired by seeing Steve Kilbey or Marty Willson-Piper perform recently, try borrowing a twelve string guitar and using that. The extra tension really puts an edge on things. I’m talking here about the high-tuned octave ‘G’ that if you’re not careful, could have someone’s eye out if it pings mid-show. It didn’t. I performed a six song selection of my back catalogue to a standing ovation[8] and totally failed to sell any Merch. Neither of the CDs and not one of the three books I had on display in the foyer. And I had to buy my own sandwiches.

TOP TIP: There’ll always be someone who talks loudly and at length through your set. We have a name for you people at Singer-Songwriter Club[9].

The Crew.
 
If you’re the sort of person who has read this far, you’re probably aware of that meme – I think it’s attributed to Henry Rollins – regarding the behaviours appropriate to a performer when dealing with the stage hands. Essentially, they should get paid more than you, and Don’t Be A Dick. One could argue that no-one goes to a gig to watch the stage crew, and that's why the musicians get paid so much but that's the tinder for a whole different kettle of online conflagration right there. As Jackson Browne so memorably put it in his song ‘The Load Out’ “They’re the first to come and the last to leave” and I can tell you from personal experience that a ten hour shift can be extraordinarily tiresome if not ameliorated by the sort of drummer who offers to lend you an appropriate microphone and a clip-on tuner when the pick up on the twelve-string guitar you’ve borrowed turns out not to work after all. Run the power[10], allocate the channels, vacuum the carpet, tune the guitars, find out if the singer prefers a boom or straight microphone stand, have a spare guitar lead, a tuner, a capo. A spare guitar even. If you’re doing your job properly, they won’t even know you’re there. Have a set list to hand with the guitar changes (if any) marked on them. Go to the toilet before the set starts because if you go in the middle that’ll sure as hell be when the guitarist breaks a string, or that drink someone’s perched on the edge of the stage falls over into the power supply you’ve carefully Gaffa taped down beforehand. All of these things and more should be borne in mind. And after the show is over, you have the pleasure and privilege of loading all that equipment out and into the van, possibly in the rain, while the performers gladhand each other[11] and sign things. On the other hand, out of all of the roles that I have played and described – and here’s one for the online community to chew over – guess which one I actually made money on? Backatcha Rollins.
 
TOP TIP: An onstage proposal of marriage provides an ideal opportunity to tune the guitarist’s instrument while he’s not looking




[1] Since just now.
[2] My Mum’s house.
[3] And you could put anything in your dustbin, and the bin men would come right up to your drive and cart it all away. Not like today, with your coloured recycling wheelies and that. There were only three channels, and you had to get up from the sofa to change them. You never see white dog poo anymore do you? Etc etc.
[4] I thought “The last thing I should do is forget to put my gig case in the car.” And so, sure enough, the last thing I did before leaving the house…
[5] But, you know – the bins, eh?
[6] Joke. It’s from that quote attributed to (variously) Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Arnold Bax, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw that you should try everything once. And since I’ve looked that up, the phrase “Incest and Morris Dancing” is now on my Google search history. Honestly, the things I do for you people.
[7] The wages of sing.
[8] It was a non-seated venue.
[9] The first rule of Singer-Songwriter Club is YOU DO NOT TALK THROUGH SOMEONE ELSE'S SET AT SINGER-SONGWRITER CLUB. The second is 'No Smoking' 
[10] Someone will always ask if there’s any power at the front of the stage. The correct answer is ‘Yes’.
[11] Not a euphemism. At least not at the gigs I get to play.

Monday, August 05, 2019

"Back When I Was Someone..."




I  have pitiably few claims to actual fame, and those that I do entertain are closer in the actualit√© to pub quiz questions along the mildly obscure lines of ‘Name three Kinks drummers’ or ‘What links The Green, Green Grass of Home and In a Silent Way?’ One claim I do hang on to is that I believe I am the only person to have appeared on an episode of BBC Radio Suffolk’s Introducing and on Re-Introducing on the same evening. The former with the estimable Helen and TheNeighbourhood Dogsmost recent digital release, and the latter being an archive performance from 1998, broadcast as part of Stephen Foster’s invaluable trove of live tracks, studio sessions and vintage interviews stored on a bewildering number of formats in a box room somewhere in 56 St. Matthew’s* Street. 

The show recently revisited the 2000 Ipswich Music Day, wherein I played as part of the Suffolk Songwriters showcase alongside such luminaries as Tony James Shevlin, whose reliable progress through the last three decades can be measured in the performance of his song Nobody,** which in this incarnation was a rather testy, Costello-esque rendition entirely apropriate for the times. It was during this year, you see, that barbs were exchanged within the letters column of the local evening paper regarding the value, self-worth and deleterious effects of the dreaded covers and tribute bands that were laying waste to a generational swathe of Suffolk music talent. I, and indeed Mr. Shevlin, were part of this scourge in no small part due to our continued insistence on playing in The Star Club – a Beatles specialist band which in no small way funded our ability to function as independent singer-songwriters outside of the (Star) club circuit. 

The only reason I remember this is because I made a dedication to one ‘Albert Herring’’ from the stage at the time - I’m guessing not the actual greengrocer’s assistant from the Britten opera, but a nom-du-plume/guerre intended to upset the apple cart under the aegis of which we were ruthlessly expoiting the limited music-going resource of the region, and this was when you actually had to write a letter down on paper, put it in an envelope and take it down the post box first before seeing if they’d print it later, not like all of this half-witted digital egregiousness you get below the line these days. Fittingly, the song I played was about starting your own band if you didn’t like the ones you were seeing (and later recorded by Songs from The Blue House). I also got my friend Matt up to do a proto rap on a track first recorded by my band gods kitchen (and which – rater cleverly I thought – references the Beatles track ‘I Feel Fine’) and dedicated my song Stretch Armstrong (about a band from Colchester who had unwittingly helped me through some dark times) to an old friend I’d first met when I was living in a kitchen and trying to make it in an Indie band. So, yeah, I guess I was a little put out at being told that the decline and fall of the Suffolk music empire was down to me and my mates playing some sixties hits. 

It was only upon listening back to the broadcast (it was the Alanis Morissette joke that gave it away) that I realised that this was the very same performance I had been gifted afterwards by sound visionary Dave Butcher of the BBC, and rather cheekily gaffa taped on to the end of my CD-du-jour ‘This Much Talent’ - similarly made up of homespun recordings and stories from the frontline of hearth and heartbreak that I was exploring around this time. The irony of all this being that almost my first appearance in the local paper’s music section about twenty years prior to all this had been a similarly primal howl about covers bands stifling the talent and invention that was surely waiting to break through. I still tut approvingly today when the never ending wheel of outrage spins, spins, spins on its axis of indignation.

As for the protagonists of Y2K’s music wars – well, that year’s headliners were Soul Kitchen, which tells you something about longevity in the club scene (they also closed the show in 2019), ten years later The Star Club (who also played later that day) were invited back*** and were hence unable to go and watch some kid called Ed Sheeran elsewhere in the park, who later had a stage named after him. So I guess we didn't manage to kill the scene off after all. And Harry, who I’d dedicated a song to earlier sought me out backstage. “Oh mate” he said “That was a really thoughtful thing to do. But I wasn’t in Stretch Armstrong...”



*Thrillingly, the signs in the underpass there put the apostrophe in three different places.

*He’s doing it a bit more Americanary, recently – although the last time I saw him do it was at Maverick, which may account for that.

**That’s where the photo at the top comes from.