Friday, October 13, 2006

"Someone's throwing sand at the moon...."

It is one of those periodic fallow times for Picturehouse (frankly, if The Drummer was looking for some time off due to pressures of gigging relentlessly, consensus is he left the wrong group) which enables me to spend time with my other musical interest, Songs from The Blue House, a moveable feast of a collective of mainly acoustic musicians playing a folky-country-bluegrassy mix of original songs and whom some of the members of Picturehouse refer to as my “proper group”. Oddly enough, as members of SftBH do when referring to Picturehouse, as it happens. The combo has been invited to celebrate John Peel Day in the company of a couple of other turns in a converted church – the very same one which saw the departure of The Drummer a few weeks ago - and as we gather under the vaulted ceiling a friend remarks that the last time she was in here she was at a mate’s wedding and it felt very different “with all the tables and stuff”. I mention that the last time I was here it was for a wedding and agree that yes, it did feel very different. As the players slope in, I strike up a conversation with Sound Man Marky – always a good move early on in the proceedings, especially with the number of things we need DI* connections for – and ask him how it’s going so far. “Well…”, he reflects world-wearily “…I set the fackin’ PA up and there was all sorts of fackin’ crackles and shit goin’ on so I switched a few leads round and it still fackin’ crackled like a bastard and then I moved across to switch another couple o’ connections and tripped over the bleedin’ stage box”. “…and!?” I wonder out loud. “That seemed to fix it” he says happily. “You’re gonna need shitloads of DI’s, aren’tcha?” I confirm that yes we are indeed going to need ‘shitloads’ of DI’s, and four vocal mics too. For an ‘acoustic band’, it generally takes an awful lot of wires and electronics to get us heard anywhere beyond the front row. “I was afraid you’d say that”. He finishes off his cigarette with a deep pull and his features take on a steely and yet faraway expression as he reaches a satisfactory conclusion to his ongoing internal debate. “I’ll get some shit out’ the van”.
The turn on before us is a young bass/drums/piano combo called Making Eyes at Elvis who are sparky, spunky, quite, quite brilliant and quite obviously destined for far greater things in life than opening a charity gig on a Thursday night in Ipswich. As our MC for the evening announces that the last time he’d introduced the band he’d been mercilessly heckled by the band’s entourage there are “Ah, that’s where we’ve seen him before!” nods between the band members over his shoulder before they kick robustly into a series of driving, complex and quite possibly lyrically brilliant (it’s hard to tell) songs which should have them recording bad cover versions in the Jo Whiley live lounge before they’ve even had time to decide which support tour to turn down because they’ve got A-levels to revise for. They, clearly, are aware of this already as post-set congratulations are accepted in a shrugged “yeah, and your point is…?” kind of way, seemingly as if they have more important people to listen to. Which I’m sure they probably do. Or maybe I’m just the wrong demographic, or maybe they’re just shy. Still, they seem happy enough to borrow both the drum kit and our bass amp, so perhaps it’s just that they like to travel light and with this in mind, in the way of the young folk these days, once they’ve done their set they’re packed up and on their way. Well, why would you want to bother hanging around to watch anyone else play when you could be home in time to catch the end of ‘Extras’? I feel like I should be compiling a tome on old-fashioned band etiquette. The least they could do is hang around outside and smoke for a bit after all, like we’ll do later with the headline act
One of the diversions of having to smoke outside the venue is that we have been able to listen to the band play inside while watching local salsa clubbers entwine themselves around other of their constituent members’ limbs in the glass-sided atrium nailed to the front of the building, in a sort of oddly coherent pastiche video style. The jumping skittered piano, whip crack drums and rumbling bass riffs of M.E.A.E. post a heady backdrop to the fluid moves and snake-hipped twistery of the dancers, making up what looks like a BBC 1 trailer as edited and mixed by Damon Albarn in one of his more art school moments. It also makes it tremendously entertaining getting through to the toilets. How the smokers during our set felt about the same thing occurring is unrecorded. We, for our part, had fun on stage, having whipped a couple of less-frequently performed things from the repertoire out of our pockets and enjoying our intro from Simon-from-The Urban Sofa** a bit more than the youngsters did (“When I first met this next band they were arguing over which idiot had booked them to play at the Jorvik Viking Centre in York. Since then their choice of venue has, if anything been even more inspired. Potters Bar Dog Borstal, the deep-sea research vessel “Albatross”, B&Q and the Millennium Stadium have all played host to their uniquely wonderful style of music…”). The next day reviews were good, everybody played well, and Marky’s gaffa-taped on stage box, stuffed to the gunwales with bouzouki leads, banjo DI’s and cables from mic’d up bass cabinets and fiddle delay pedals held out long enough for us to finish the set with ‘Risk’, singer James’s weary affirmation of hope for the future and celebration of new life. As we hit the last chorus I look up to the far end of the venue, and notice where the neon lights of the insurance building next door are shining through the stained glass window left over from the building’s previous incarnation – “A life that wasn’t yours” I sing to myself from one of our earlier songs. And I think of all these little pieces. Tiny fragments.

*direct input from an internal pickup, ie you don’t stick a microphone in front of it and hope for the best.

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