Sunday, April 09, 2006

"....I've got a word for Ricky Martin - 'Spuckwit'"

Yet another in the seemingly endless number of beartrap variations for the casual pub rocker - the anniversary party. Like engagements, weddings, birthdays and wakes, a family party of any description can be a trial for both the fingers and the psyche of the casual pub rocker. Invariably, you will have been spotted in the pub at some point by an over-refreshed bride, groom, forty-year-old or widow to be who will then bring to mind that great night they had falling over in The Milestone, when considering the entertainment they need for their celebratory function. It will not occur to them that they'd not gone out for a beer with their Auntie Sheila that night, who doesn't like anything recorded after Elvis went into the army and is disappointed at the clear and present lack of Guy Mitchell numbers in the set. At such a juncture it's always nice to have a bit of rock eytemology up your sleeve and be able to pull out a less-than-pristine, but servicable version of "Singin' The Blues", by the way - (or 'playing the Jack Charlton card' as one seasoned performer used to refer to it upon shoehorning his usual set into a St Patrick's night gig upon the flimsiest of excuses. I mean, really - The Eagles?) - "She wore red Feathers and a Hula Hula Skirt" is usually beyond the remit of all but the most dedicated of cabaret artists which, although we stray, has remained just without our circle of concern. There's little more humbling than being the one thing guests remember about a wedding reception, and in a bad way, and on one occasion in a previous incarnation we've actually been glad that a fight broke out, if only to get people's attention (we certainly weren't). "Of course" I hear you say, "You could always turn it down", but the money sure does come in handy when you're explaining to your spouse why the Gibson Les Paul has a much better tone than the Epiphone and that's why we're not getting a new bathroom.

Parties for friends come with extra baggage in that they are frequently solicitous and helpful and have never done this sort of thing before, and so the space that they've allocated for the band is often large enough for a drumkit, but not as generous with the leg room as, say, the area devoted to the buffet and because they're friends and not simply a curmudgeonly Landlady and also because you're taking money off them and are strictly speaking now an employee, one tends to grin and bear it. It is with this in mind that The Drummer, who has forgotten that we had a gig that night anyway, ruminates sadly on which parts of his lovingly assembled kit are not going to make the cut tonight. Suggestions from the band about where the ride cymbal could go lead not so much to a decision on whether to agree but certainly a suggestion as to where it could be relocated and we squeeze into the space by the dartboard. On this occasion, our hostess is not only a friend, but indeed the landlady and extremely apologetic about the bass drum-shaped area she's squeezing us into, and so we dismiss the earlier promises of a marquee in the grounds and settle back to more familiar territory in that we are now about, in fact, to play a regular pub gig, albeit with some family members scattered amongst the regulars (or in the case of a quintet of octagenarians, seated around a special table round the back) . Pressure's off lads. And there's a buffet.

Secure in the knowledge that we're on familiar territory now, we start of slowly - a bit of Wings, a smidgin of Eagles - at the table by the side of the stage I can see my wife leaning over to her friend and mouthing "I fucking hate The Eagles..." which is always a confidence booster when you're in the middle of the solo on "Take It Easy" but, as on so many of these occasions, once we're up and running the earlier doubts dissolve away and we start enjoying ourselves. In a book-judging competition, if the only the covers were available for examination, I would, I'm sure, do very badly. Same with audiences. Know what the number that got them leaping up at the combined twenty-first birthday and silver wedding anniversary black tie ball we did last summer? - "London Calling". Know what gets the teen-somethings kicking off tonight? The Small Faces. We haven't written a set list and so what we play is determined very much by what instruments we're playing at any one time - the 'stage' is not best suited to quick changes and so since I'm wearing the bass at one point (we swap around a bit to accomodate both The Other Guitarist's talents in a previous life as a bass player and The Bass Player's penchant for keyboard noodlery) The Singer decides that we should play "All Or Nothing", followed by a bit of Charlatans which gives five-year-old Theo his first gigging opportunity as he is handed a tambourine and asked to keep time. He seems bewildered but touched by the applause which greets his stage debut and is fascinated, as all children are, by The Drummer and his repertoire of flams, fills and facial tics. This is also an expedient way of getting all the parents in the audience on your side by demonstrating our sensitivity - we firmly believe that children are our future....

By the time we hit the second set we've forgotten we are supposed to be working and are having a party ourselves. Requests being flung at us from the combined family and regulars, so often an irritation, are attempted with good humour on both sides - The Singer plainly doesn't know the words to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (one could say that this doesn't especially mark the song out as unusual...) but improvises a verse or two any way. A toilet break provides the opportunity for him to entrance the punters with a solo singalong "All You Need Is Love", and by the time we're into the home stretch there are the corpses of several rock anthems twitching silently on the floor around our tangled leads. The by now traditional "Fat Bottomed Girls" set closer so overwhelms one lady at the bar who has been baying for some Queen throuhout the set that she launches herself karaoke-like on to the stage and grab a microphone, the better to sing along. Again, normally the stage is sacrosant, but what the hell - we're having fun. We retire grinning to the band table, by now littered with empty Chardonnay bottles courtesy of our travelling support and reflect that we have just played solidly for an hour and a half. Now if someone'd suggested that we do in the first place, we'd've had 'em put away. For the fourth time that evening I tell the joke I heard on the radio that afternoon. "Ricky Martin says his new album is 'Spanglish' - it's a combination of two words, 'Spanish' and 'English'....."

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