Monday, June 25, 2007

“Lookin’ out at the road rushin’ under my wheels”

One of the issues in forming “a nice little acoustic band – we’ll just roll up and play” is actually getting some places to play in the first place. Back in the early days of Songs from The Blue House, when James, Gibbon and I staged a series of pre-emptive raids on beer festivals and acoustic/songwriters nights this wasn’t so much of an issue, as since we only had half an hour’s material anyway, we were able to either get up and do our thang and get out of the way before anyone noticed it was the same six songs we’d played last time or drag up whatever other stuff we could remember which meant that the set became mainly covers anyway, and besides, who doesn’t love a rip-roaring acoustic version of I Wanna Be Your Dog to close the evening? These days, now that the line up has grown to the point where there are around half a dozen of us on a quiet day, such guerilla tactics aren’t always so possible or indeed permissible, and so we find ourselves settling into whatever surroundings we can and then settling back to enjoy the ride, wherever it may take us. Hence, only recently, we’ve played a birthday party in a village hall in Northamptonshire where we turned up early and then drove for five miles in each direction trying to find a pub that was open before realizing that there was one next to the venue, albeit one that didn’t open until seven and for which you had to book in advance if you wanted a burger making up.
We have also been on the back of an open-sided trailer in a park attempting to communicate with a sound engineer who is a good hundred yards away and who has no direct means of contacting the group other than an odd sort of pidgin sign language (a carrier pigeon with sign language would have been handier) and who has to come out of his mixing tent to actual see where we’re pointing to things that we can’t hear (I know – “a nice little acoustic band”, we said) . Being a park, and with a parkie’s responsibilities being what they are, they locked the toilets at bang on half five. The lads who’d spent all afternoon in the beer tent weren’t best pleased, apparently.
There was the beer festival in Little Totham where it had been raining torrentially all morning. When we turned up there was a boat in the back garden, which indicated a level of preparation of Noah-esque proportions on somebody’s part at least. Having decided against risking it with elements by setting up in the garden we managed to cram two guitarists, a banjo player, a small p.a. system, and a bass player into the area next to the restaurant, a space about eight feet square and from which we’d had to move the spare cutlery and the salad for the barbecue before we could fit the mic stands in. “Right” said James “So where shall we put the piano….?” It was a good gig actually – the closeness and intimacy of the thing made it so that we were all playing together and off each other rather than performing our parts by rote, as being on the back of flat-bed trucks unable to hear what anyone is playing is wont to encourage. I was so into it by the last song that I didn’t notice that the rest of the band had retired to the restaurant and were accompanying my vocal from there, including a game TT, of whom only an extended forearm and hand could be seen playing a few low chords on the black notes. It was like being accompanied on keyboards by Thing from The Addams Family. They were very good about dropping into an unannounced Bob Dylan number mid-chorus and even a departure into some Buffalo Springfield didn’t throw them. Shaney let me follow you down, as it were.
And last week we got a plum gig with the rather marvellous Derrin Nauendorf at a club in Chelmsford. Wendell came down for the trip and we were pleased to be able to greet Derrin’s drummer Mark outside the venue with an East Angularly drawled “Yew wanna git yower hair cut boiy!” (Marky sports an impressively perky Mohican at all times). “What the f*** are you doing here?” he responded, not unreasonably not expecting a couple of homeboys from the ‘hood (or pasture, in Ipswichian terms) to be pulling up at his gig. “We’ll be your support act for the evening!” we chirruped. Another fun night – a promoter working tirelessly to put on some good music in his town, bringing in veterans of Radio 2 and Glastonbury, American touring bands and up-and-coming singer songwriters just starting to make an impact on the scene, organizing the promotion, sound and lights himself and spending his evenings organizing flyers and promotion. There must have been fifteen people there. It’s not all Shea Stadium, ligging with Sting and all back to the hotel with two birds each for these guys, you know. Someone asked if the promoters had made sure that these gigs were worth our while. Oh yes, every single one. This week, a charity barbecue in the shadows of a nuclear power station. You can’t buy this sort of exposure.

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