Sunday, December 17, 2006

Heathen Chemistry

It was the best of times, the worst of times. Well, not quite that bad as to be literally ‘worst’, to be honest. Not as bad, for example, as the time we decided to do a gig in Stowmarket with our Beatles specialist band and precede each song with a recitation of the relevant entry from Ian McDonald’s seminal ‘Revolution In The Head’. It may have been that which pushed them over the edge, or the first-set closing version of the (I believe) 1967 fan club-only flexidisc song “Christmas Time Is Here Again” (not one of their better known or artistically satisfying works, to be honest) but we were certainly let know in no uncertain terms that our outré approach to presenting the works of the mop tops was not appreciated. That and the “play some more, you fuckers” at the closing of the second set indicated that both the levity and brevity of our stagecraft left something to be desired. Everyone’s a critic, eh? So when we were contacted at a couple of days notice to fill in for a cancellation at a private party only for The Bass Player to reluctantly decline the opportunity to sit around toying with vol au vents for three hours waiting to go on for the second weekend in a row we probably should have thought again about the wisdom of approaching the evening as an exciting challenge. As it happened, The Singer and The Other Guitarists were posed mutely in a hotel room in Stoke and a charity fundraising dinner in Ipswich respectively, fingers hovering over the speed dial buttons on their mobiles, wondering if I had finally lost the plot by suggesting we could 'busk it'. Fate however intervened and those calls were never made. On such throws of the dice do the gods (possibly played by Larry Olivier) toy with our fates.
On the surface, it should be a relatively easy task to accomplish – we’ve got three guitar players in the band and so one of them just shuffles across and fills the vacant space on stage and plays simply two fewer strings than he does ordinarily. How difficult can it be? That The Other Guitarist was originally a bassist of no little repute anyway (one early comment on our line up was that having him on guitar was like Ipswich Town putting Richard Wright up front instead of in goal, although subsequent developments in his career now suggest that that may not have been as silly a concept as it sounded at the time). A few set list conference calls later and we’d settled on a respectable run of numbers and although we had bowed to circumstance and included a few Beatles numbers (sans prologue essays) we stick firmly and proudly to our No Mustang Sally rule. We have been warned that there may be a few musicians in the crowd, always the toughest of people to play to, and at the sight of one legendary local entertainer I am both anxious that he may see through our hastily constructed facade and relieved that at least we can get him up for a good twenty minutes' worth of "Come Together" if things tail off later. It transpires that he is merely dropping party guests off in his current role as a cab driver. I am not sure whether this constitutes a lucky escape for him or for us.
And then the wait begins for showtime. This, it transpires, is a tenth anniversary and Christmas party for a local firm run, it turns out, by a very nice man who also plays in a local band, and who is grateful for our turning up at short notice if nothing else. We have a few friends in common and he’s extraordinarily reasonable about the lack of a few numbers in the set, we chat about gigs, bands and all the minutae of musical life that occupies musos when they get together and he invites us to help ourselves to the buffet and call him if there’s anything we need. So far, so good. This particular ilk of office party is where you go to chat to colleagues, off-piste as it were, meet up with family members, talk to friends you haven't seen for a while and enjoy the sumptuous buffet at length. It is emphatically not where you go to drink booze and jump around to the band, especially one with as cobbled-together a repertoire as this, sounding as it does like the preliminary mixes of a particularly eclectic covers album that someone has forgotten to put the overdubs on. We are not exactly on a post gig high when a woman passes on her way to leave with her clearly embarrassed daughter in tow. “I loved your Haircut 100” she beams. “Bloody kids!” she adds, and is gone. Which brightens the mood a little.
And so it is with almost religious fervour that we greet The Prodigal Bass (and keyboard) Player the next night at a compact and bijou (and scheduled) gig within hiking distance of at least two of the band members’ homes. The first order of the night hence goes out for two lagers, a Guinness, a JD & coke* and a lime and soda. Stalker Bertie, back from a trek around Europe following proper bands is in attendance and is sequestered into guitar roadieing duties - just as soon as he’s back from the bar - and there is a healthy assortment of WAGs, friends and people who’ve seen us before building up an anticipatory air to proceedings. As we begin a more familiar set that on the previous evening there is a palpable sense of relief that guitar parts are being filled, errant harmonies are back in place, and that all is well within the camp. The newly relaxed atmosphere leads to showboating, mucking about and further calls for lubrication from the bar, and we are back again as a tight and groovy little team, playing to our strengths and enjoying the vibe, as are our mutually appreciative audience. At the start of the second set our good friend Andy Trill gets up to lead the rhythm section (including The Other Guitarist back on his original bass playing duties) through a spirited Snow Patrol rocker to marvellous effect. Mr Trill is also a bassist of enormous ability and at one point comments on my efforts with the four string that he fears that it seems apparent that I may have been attacked by a bass as a child. I also perform the patented Dave Pegg plectrum on the forehead manoeuvre mid song, which makes me smile to myself, if no one else. We are in a noisy mood tonight, and so the punk stuff is to the fore – ironically, this would have been a much better approach to take last night, as our host had told us he was due out to support the UK Subs next year with his band but, oh, that special component, that whole, and it’s missing part. We won’t be trying that again. Tonight however the sound’s great, everyone is in good voice, the solos are coming off a treat, and all is well with the world again. I could have danced all night, and still have begged for more. I could have spread my wings and, hang on…..

*A post gig conversation runs thus - "I've only had five JD and cokes and I feel fine". "You do realise Pat got you a treble, don't you?"."I've only had eight JD and cokes and I feel fine..."

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