Saturday, September 16, 2006

"The King is dead! Long live The King!"

I roll up at saturday lunchtime to the works open day, where we have been employed to provide a musical backdrop to the raffle, a selection of stalls, some tours of the factory and a surprising number of scouts, some of whom are desultoraly wandering around having accessorised their uniforms with sneakers, skinny fit jeans and long keychains and have doubtless already achieved their 'emo' badges, very probably with distinctions. The Suffolk School of Samba are occupied drumming, dancing and generally enhancing the hangover experience under the bright sunshine and not one, but two trailers have been lined up side by side to provide our stage. Another band have provided PA and are also to play and are soon battling with the other attractions, not least a display by the company fire officers, who are regularly setting alight a pan of chemicals and then demonstrating how best to extinguish it, which on a site which expressly forbids the use of cigarette lighters and mobile phones for fear of igniting an explosion seems cavalier at best. Luckily there are also some members of both the Territorial and The Salvation Armies at hand, so all bases seem pretty well covered in terms of providing extra assistance in case things do go awry. Marvista, for it is they, play a punchy set of rock classics punctuated at every tween-song break by the dulcet tones of the site announcer urging folk to take the tour, buy some raffle tickets or visit the site waste disposal area over the PA before reminding them that they are being entertained by the band who are playing "in a pub style". The New Drummer suggests that we all go and have our faces painted and perform our set as tigers, an idea which is given serious consideration before being politely declined, as is his second suggestion that we engage in some Greco-Roman wrestling prior to the gig to stir things up a bit. At least he's contributing. The band finish and clear the stage of their equipment including, unfortuntely, the mics for the drum kit and guitar amps and also the vocal mics, however we have our own bag o' leads to hand and jury-rig a quick backline sound. This does rather leave The New Drummer having to make himself heard acoustically over the noise of the PA through which everyone else is playing, but he seems unfazed and approaches the task at hand with gusto. It's a nice day, we're on a trailer, we're having fun, and so who really cares if the car park audience are mainly transient? The lure of the waste disposal area has clearly become too much for a few people, and the lure of afternoon tea too much for a few stallholders who, some tired of handing out leaflets for free gym sessions (we weren't sure if we were being deliberately targeted but the exchange "Are you fit, then?" - "No, Tracy's the fit one" - "I beg to differ my dear..." was another of TND's contributions to the afternoon's entertainment) start packing up. The Scouts, to a be-woggled girl, boy and man, bravely hang on to the finish. As we prepare for our final big crescendo the announcer, who has been AWOL throughout our set, reappears, elegantly coiffed and resplendent in pastel green slacks, matching socks and wearing sandals to announce that it is time for the raffle to be drawn. Our stint, apparently, is over. Well, it's been a nice day out, I've earned more in an afternoon from the company than I have from the previous six years' performance-related bonuses (whether that says more about me than about the firm is a moot point) and so we pack up, up and away, content that for once we'll be home in time for tea and Final Score. The TA have loaded up their lorry, the winner of their own personal competition gets to ride the Steve McQueen-esque camouflage green motorcycle home, the last of the balloons in the balloon race are released to the skies and the afternoon has one, final, glorious postscript. The winning raffle tickets are announced over the public address speakers and prize recipients come forward to claim their booty from the stand. "....and on the yellow, winning ticket number 173. Has anyone seen Mike Hunt....?"

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"...and on that bombshell....."

We have another wedding reception to play. As per normal we have strongly advised both bride and groom to come and see us in a pub environment prior to the big day and warned them that, possibly minus a bit of Radiohead and plus a bit of Beatles, that's what they'll be getting. We're not a cabaret band, we don't do requests and we don't turn the PA back on after we've finished so that the chief bridesmaid can make an announcement. Not since that time one of them slurred "But i's very important - jes' wanna tell evryone tha' I splept with th' groom las' week...." although, believe me, we were tempted. Especially after The Bass Player said "Did she say 'the groom' or 'the bride and groom'?". These details can be important. So we turn up at the appointed (and anointed) venue, a decommissioned church, still used for spiritual matters but doubling as a conference, exhibition and meeting centre, although according to the sign outside "Revelations is cancelled on saturdays for further notice". The Bass Player is comforted by the inference that tonight's gig will be mercifully undisturbed by any apocalyptic horsemen, not least because I imagine they'd leave a terrible mess on the carpet. We have arrived bright and early to set up but find that the stage is already occupied by the pub rocker's sworn enemy and only natural predator - The Dixieland Jazz Combo. The Drummer is freaked out enough by clowns, so you can imagine what the sight of half a dozen MU members in blazers and toting such things as banjos does to him. They affably explain that they didn't know that there was another band playing tonight, but they'll be off at eight, which will give us plenty of time to set up before we start at nine, and there's still time to catch the second half of the England game at the nearest pub. This all sounds terribly reasonable and so we retire for coffees and cigarettes and a discourse on Peter Crouch's scoring record, at The Plough. The Drummer also has something on his mind. He has a beautiful gifted and attentive partner* and is charged with the care of three beautiful children, all of whom he hardly ever sees, has a way stressful day job to which he has to devote many hours of his own time, and on top of that goes out several thursday, friday and saturday nights a month with a bunch of guys who make him play 'American Idiot' and then 'I Fought The Law' in quick succession without a fag break in between. And at his age? Something's got to give, not least because it's rumoured that his golf handicap is also suffering. It's been building for a while and so we are not entirely surprised when he announces that this will be his last performance with the band for the forseeable future. And he might be losing his hair, but he's got great eyesight. Coffee cups are clinked. We go back to the venue and set up. The Drummer points out that this place "sucks the bass out of things". It's not a metaphor, the sound is odd. Three songs in we play a John Lennon song we've learned especially for the occasion at the Groom's behest and I shudder quietly to myself at how easily a "no requests" principle can be quickly neutralised by the application of ready cash. Perhaps it's the venue (although the huge organ** intro to one song sounds especially dramatic given the surroundings), perhaps it's occasion, perhaps it's the sunshine the starlight or even the boogie, but I keep drifting off. Regular viewers will be aware of my penchant for shape-throwing at pertinent points of shows, but there really is something especially wonderful about windmilling a chord in a Who song and having a wild drum fill punched into the crowd by The Drummer at the same time. We don't do any Free, but sometimes when I've been hitting a hanging barre chord on the Les Paul (roots ad fifths only, no thirds) leaning close up to the hi hat and locking in with the bass drum I really have thought "Were Kossoff and Kirke like this on Top of the Pops in the seventies?" - that we were probably playing 'The Bends' at the time needn't impinge on my reality, any more than the stuffed moose's head hanging from the ceiling over my head had to. During a slow Coldplay number I remember that when I did my first ever stand up solo singer-songwriter gig it was supporting The Drummer's band*** and when we finish I'm sorry that it wasn't in a frenzy of thrashing guitars, bass drones and Moonist fills around the kit, just that we had served our purpose for the evening and foks had mostly either disappeared for a cigarette outside or gone on to a club. And so this is how it ends. Not with a bang, but with a wedding. We are in the town centre, and rowdy crowds pass us by on their way to club land as we are packing up, many seasonally underdressed. Two girls dressed as Playboy bunnies totter past unsteadily. A man in a wedding suit nudges The Other Guitarist. "You can see their tails from here.....". Back in the venue, a very small boy clambers on to the stage, unsure of himself and looking for reassurance from his father, who urges him forward. The Drummer hands him a set of beaters, settles him on the stool, and watches happily as the child swooshes a few cymbals, delighted at the noise. I can see him thinking to himself - "My art will go on".



*Hi Trudes. x
**Oh stop it.
***It's alright, he doesn't die in the end, this is all just flashbacks. He's fine.